Any great detective needs a flaw, and Oxel Karnhus, a private detective afflicted with Acromegaly and, well, his name, fits the bill in The Creep. The disease takes its toll on the once-handsome man--his face is exaggerated, grotesque--and Oxel is all too aware of his affliction. The neighboring teens make fun of him as he exits his apartment; a former flame attempts to hide shock at his appearance; and he breaks out in sweats and headaches due to the agony. The deformity is what gives the recently published compact hardcover its title--Oxel, no matter his good intentions, is an abnormality to everyone upon first glance. He is "the Other," a creep.
In The Creep, a young boy commits suicide following the death of his friend. The former's mother is convinced that there is more to her son's death than depression. Oxel takes the case and it leads him to a secret so shocking that the final revelation left me stunned, even when I was sure I'd correctly read all the dreams and symbols that writer John Arcudi leaves along the book's path. It's to Arcudi's credit that The Creep does not rely on the big secret to drive the story. Instead, it's Oxel who carries the book. He's sympathetic--falling in front of the cruel boys who lurk at his stoop, to their laughter and his nosebleed; he makes poor decisions and fumbles toward a resolution without a grand redemption.
And it's artist Jonathan Case whose beautiful line work takes this story and makes it all the more memorable. Case previously worked on another Dark Horse title, Green River Killer, which was one of Amazon's Best of the Year picks in 2011. Here he works in color, adding that extra vigor to psychotic hallucinations and Oxel's fever dreams throughout the book. His Oxel is not a monster--the deformity is prominently displayed without gothic shadows or familiar visual tricks. It's a frank look at an uncomfortable visage, and Oxel is not alone in Case's expert portrayal. Characters emote without exaggeration. Readers witness shame, grief, and horror in genuine display, all of which makes the final chapter so vivid. In one flashback panel, the colors appear scratched out of a section, the memory too real to witness in full.
Despite Dark Horse and John Arcudi's history with supernatural tales (see Arcudi's B.P.R.D., a paranormal investiagtion series), The Creep is a story full of whispers depicted at great volume. The mystery that unfurls is all too human.