Review: “Otis Stein” (Skinny’s Comics, Festival of Dread Special)

Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things unnerving and undead!

Today we’re going to take a look at Otis Stein, a 28-page, black and white horror book written by Matthew D. Vealey, illustrated by Carlos F. Rodriguez, and published by Shinny’s Comics. Fair warning – there will be some spoilers.

I’ve been able to watch the evolution of Otis Stein ever since it began as a meager short story in Ashcan Comics Pub.’s Old School Monsters book (we reviewed it here!). For the uninitiated, Otis Stein is a modern-day Frankenstein tale set in the American heartland. Otis and his wife Mary are still reeling from the loss of their young daughter, Charlotte. Though the doctors were unable to save her, Otis and Mary are still receiving overdue medical bills for Charlotte’s treatments, and they simply don’t have enough money to keep up.

Otis decides to dust off his Grandfather’s old whiskey still, in hopes that selling some under-the-counter moonshine will help him raise some quick cash. Long story short, Otis accidentally blows himself up, a death that was not-so-subtly telegraphed five pages earlier when Mary tells him, “Don’t you go doin’ anything stupid like blowin’ yourself up!”

In a frenzy, Mary rushes to stitch up her piecemeal husband and invoke dark powers to resurrect him. Unfortunately, an evil cult disrupts the process and comes to claim the reanimated Otis Stein as their own undead soldier. What follows is a brutal, seven page fight scene leading into the cliffhanger ending that – ostensibly – will be continued in issue 2.

The opening pages of Otis Stein are intended to show how close of a relationship Otis and Mary have, but the language was too heavy-handed and melodramatic for my tastes. As a plot twist, the sudden arrival of the evil cult was pretty confusing. The narrator changes between Otis and Mary with no warning, too, adding to the confusion. Otis Stein isn’t the first book to do this, but I’ve seen it so much that I have to ask, does anyone in real life actually use the phrase “very soul”? For example: “A man who stole my heart and my very soul.” I’ve seen the phrase written in comics for decades, and I can’t imagine hearing anyone say it out loud without sounding ridiculous.

There’s definitely a lot going on with the artwork, for better or worse. Rodriguez’s thick, dark lines work well for larger panels, but for pages with multiple small panels, it’s sometimes too tight. It’s sometimes difficult to tell what is going on, though I wonder if a splash of color wouldn’t help clear things up a bit.

Perhaps the biggest frustration with the Otis Stein is the lettering. It can be very cramped, and some of the narration boxes were hard to read. On the form factor side, I have to wonder why people bother with perfect binding if you aren’t going to put the title of the book on the spine. What’s the point of a blank spine?

I’ve done a lot of nitpicking in this review, and when I put the book down, I thought that there would be very little chance of my picking up the second issue (if and when it comes). The art was often cramped, the story slightly confusing, and the lettering poorly done. However, the book’s cliffhanger ending stuck with me for a couple of days, and the relationship between Otis and his wife was just getting really interesting in the last couple of pages. So now? I’m not so sure. I may just pick up a second issue, particularly if the art and lettering look to be cleaned up a bit.

But the big question is, should you pick up Otis Stein issue 1? After all, physical copies are available for a very reasonable price on Amazon (about $5). Honestly, I have to say that only the more dedicated monster/horror fan should pick this up, at least until issue 2 comes around and we can all see how the story (and the overall book quality) progresses. There’s a lot of potential in the pieces of Otis Stein, but they just haven’t been put together in quite the right order yet.

Thanks for reading!

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