First published back in July of 1990, ‘Tapping The Vein: Book Three’ followed on from the relative success of the previous two graphic novel adaptation publications from Clive Barker’s incredibly well received ‘Book Of Blood’ series.

This third volume includes graphic novel adaptations of ‘The Midnight Meat Train’ which was taken from ‘Books Of Blood: Volume One’ (1984) and ‘Scape-Goats’ from ‘Books Of Blood: Volume Three’ (1984).

The Midnight Meat Train – 26 Pages
Leon Kaufman finds himself falling asleep on a New York subway train. Upon awakening, Kaufman realises that he has slept through his stop and is now at an unknown station, somewhere beyond the last stop on the line. As Kaufman tries to locate some assistance, he stumbles upon a man named Mahogany who has just murdered and butchered a number of people on board the now deserted train; their corpses strung up as if they were carcasses in an abattoir. Kaufman has no option but to kill Mahogany as an act of self-defence. But there is a lot more to this whole set-up than first meets the eye. In despatching Mahogany, Kaufman has unknowingly sentenced himself to a whole new purpose in life, with the greatest secret of the city now revealed to him...

This short was inspired and created around a sultry summer visit to New York in which Barker found himself lost on a subway at midnight. The tale is a bitter and twisted one, as we are treated to Barker's rampantly dark imagination and ruthless talent for setting down a vivid and truly disturbing tale. With the gloriously fear-ridden premise now set, the story is quickly dropped into a festering pit of gore, with extreme mutilation and blood-spill dripping from each page. The tale ends with a haunting twist conclusion, as we are treated to a hefty slab of Barker's gritty and dark imagination.

The graphic novel was adapted by Chuck Wagner and Fred Burke, with the illustrative artwork by Denys Cowan and Michael Davis.  The importance of successfully reproducing the grim and downright gritty atmosphere of the city’s underbelly at night has been suitably addressed, with the two artists skilfully capturing the depressive mood of the tale with a continuing washed-out colour theme and overall darkness to all of the illustrations.  The adaptation is slow in its delivery, which is accentuated more by the uneventful imagery of the graphic novel format for the first half of the tale.  This is not necessarily a particular failure with the graphic novel, but merely an aspect that will come with translating a tale from one format to another in this way.  That said, the artwork and grotesque impact of the grand finale is delightfully sinister in its vividness, with plenty of gory nastiness to keep with the spirit of the original short.  All in all, it’s another darn good adaptation of one of Barker’s finest early shorts.

Scape-Goats – 27 Pages
They thought their day couldn’t get much worse when their yacht, ‘The Emmanuelle’, became grounded on the grimy pebbled beach of an unknown and completely isolated island in the North Atlantic Ocean.  However, for Frankie, Angela, Jonathan and Ray, their unexpected grounding on the small island was going to get a whole lot worse.  And it all started to descend into a living-hell when they discover three sheep; alone, abandoned and penned in at the very centre of the abysmal island.  Three sheep that were left there for a reason.  Three sheep that were left as an offering to the dead…

Utterly Lovecraftian from the very outset, Barker’s short paints a vividly grim picture of an island that is completely immersed in decay, setting the reader on edge almost immediately with a thick and oppressive atmosphere.  Written from the first-person perspective of Frankie, the short quickly adjusts itself into a brief but callous blend of Lovecraft’s ‘Dagon’ (1919) meets the craved violence of Golding’s ‘Lord Of The Flies’ (1954).  And just as the madness reaches its unnerving peak, so the story shifts to unveil an all new menacing and nightmarish reality.  And with that, the short ends on a bleak and altogether downbeat note.  As horrifying as it is unsettlingly surreal.

Bo Hampton’s adaptation of the short set out with capturing much of the tension and surreal atmosphere within the pictorial focus of the graphic novel.  Hampton’s illustrations flitter between washed-out colours and that of much more bold and focussed imagery.  Admittedly, the more drained artwork seems to be the more befitting for the tale, offering an almost dreamlike quality whilst subtly bleaching out the life of the characters.  However, as the tale progresses, so the graphic novel loses its strength and sadly misses the mark on captivating the menace and creeping tension that was so palpable in Barker’s original.  The end result is a somewhat limited and collapsed re-working of an absolute masterpiece in atmospheric horror.

The graphic novel runs for a total of 62 pages.

© DLS Reviews

Other ‘Tapping The Vein’ instalments:

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