Writers: Clive Barker, Chris Ryall
Artist: Gabriel Rodriguez
Colorist: Jay Fotos
Letterers: Robbie Robbins, Neil Uyetake
Designer: Shawn Lee
Editors: Justin Eisinger, Alonzo Simon
Publisher: IDW Publishing
It has been three decades since Clive Barker gifted the first part of his Art Trilogy to fans, calling it his hardest book to write. It has not been an easy book to read either, clocking in at over 600 pages, which is presumably why it has traditionally attracted only the legendary horror writer’s most devoted fans.
Something interesting happens when a dense tale is transposed to a different medium, though, especially one that values economy of thought and takes advantage of a visual element. In the hands of writer Chris Ryall and artist Gabriel Rodriguez, The Great and Secret Show becomes a terrifying mix of horror and fantasy, condensing Barker’s ability to terrify into a crisp story that doesn’t meander from the central battle between darkness and light.
At the heart of this tale, despite the many other characters that tend to crowd the original, are two men named Randolph Jaffe and Richard Fletcher. The battle between them centers around a mystical dream sea called Quiddity, which the former wants to control and the latter wants to prevent from happening. This conflict begins in Nebraska in 1969 and escalates over the following decades to encompass other parts of the United States and, eventually, the human race.
Quiddity is supposedly visible to ordinary human beings just three times in their lives. Jaffe intends to break that rule and control the sea after coming into contact with a member of a mysterious society. The society practices a form of magic that can help him accomplish this. Another person with the ability to make this possible is Fletcher, a scientist who realizes that Jaffe’s intentions are far from good. The fight that then begins goes on to drag their respective offspring into its orbit. There is much violence (especially against women), secret societies, magical creatures, and everything that has long come to characterize a Clive Barker work.
For those familiar with the novel, this may seem like a whole new work, which is a testament to Ryall’s ability to breathe new life into an established narrative. It also manages to be a lot more emotionally disturbing than the original, probably because it goes about telling the story in 12 precise issues that have been collected as a whole for this edition. Also included is a single issue-adaptation of a short story called Seduth, which is supposedly about the essence of nihilism. Make of that what you will.
Jaffe and Fletcher are the kind of well-fleshed-out characters that allow Barker — and, by extension, Ryall — to comment not just on the base elements that characterize human nature but also to raise age-old questions about the corrupting influence of power and omniscience. Gabriel Rodriguez gives full reign to the kind of nuance he deployed on his award-winning work for Locke & Key, and clearly relishes the ability to bring about everything that is depraved about this tale.
The Great And Secret Show is the kind of work that will appeal not just to readers who appreciate great horror, magic, or fantasy, but also to anyone who likes a good story well told. That it also manages to send a shiver or two down one’s spine is just a bonus.