Stranger Things is massively successful. It’s probably Netflix’s biggest hit in the past five years, or so. So, it was only a matter of time before it started branching out into other mediums. Earlier last month, the first official novel – Gwenda Bond’s Suspicious Minds (my review of it here) – was released, but prior to that, Dark Horse Comics released a limited series – written by Jody Houser and illustrated by Stefano Martino – telling the unseen story of Will Byers during the events of season 1. It’s a great idea for a tie-in comic, but is the execution as good as the concept? Mostly, yeah.
When Will Byers finds himself in the Upside Down, an impossible dark parody of his own world, he’s understandably frightened. But that’s nothing compared with the fear that takes hold when he realizes what’s in that world with him!
As I said, this graphic novel follows Will during his experience in the Upside Down during the events of season 1. Much of the story is told through word bubbles from the point of view of an omniscient narrator. This is a tactic that works surprisingly well as it allows the reader to get inside of Will’s mind while also being clued into the grander scheme. There’s very little dialogue in this series as Will wouldn’t really have anybody to talk to in the Upside Down. To compensate for this, Houser utilizes a number of flashback sequences to D&D games Will played with his friends prior to his disappearance. These flashback sequences serve multiple purposes; the first being a way to develop season one Will Byers into more of a three-dimensional character than he was in the show and the second being a metaphor for what Will is currently going through during his stay in the Upside Down. Houser perfectly captures the voices of the characters and the feeling of the Stranger Things universe while crafting a story that elaborates on things seen – and unseen – in season 1. Frankly, it’s nice to spend some more time in the Upside Down as it’s one of the more interesting aspects of the series and Houser depicts the Upside Down really marvelously. She makes it feel suitably spooky and interesting.
The real highlight of this graphic novel, though is Stefano Martino’s brilliant artwork. In this series, he is able to take Houser’s already spooky script and make it spookier. He perfectly captures the likeness of the actors while still bringing his own style to the look of this graphic novel. His style differs depending on if he’s depicting the Upside Down or one of the D&D Flashbacks, and each style perfectly works for the sequence being told. He’s clearly following the blueprint of how the Upside Down looked in the TV series, but he really fleshes it out and makes it look and feel more like a real place than season one ever did. His artwork for the Demogorgon is also extremely spooky, giving us our best look at the creature yet. It’s immediately identifiable as the same monster from the show, but it looks and feels a bit more detailed. It’s horror at its finest and I loved his artwork here. Every single panel elevated the story and drew me further into what was going on.
Ultimately, Stranger Things: The Other Side is an immensely enjoyable tie-in graphic novel. Nothing particularly new or major is revealed in this series, but it does elaborate a bit on what all happened to Will during his time in the Upside Down. Houser’s excellent script mixed with Martino’s haunting, creepy illustrations makes for an enjoyable, creepy experience. It’s a quick read, but it’s one that any fan of Stranger Things will likely enjoy. The four issues tell a complete story, all set during the events of season one of the show. I’m interested to see if Dark Horse, Houser, and Martino will do further volumes in this series and, if so, what stories they will tackle. I’d definitely be interested in seeing more from this team.
4 out of 5 wands.