I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a comic reader from way back. I preferred the superhero genre, but I was also partial to the horror and mystery comics as well. Instead of the multi-issue story arcs so popular with the former, titles like House of Secrets, The Witching Hour, and Tales of the Unexpected dealt with shorter, more compact morality tales. These magazines were the watered-down 1970’s descendants of the famous EC Horror yarns of the 1950’s, the ones that almost got the comics industry run out of business. Even though these titles lacked much of the graphic violence of their predecessors, they still packed some punch with their twist endings, many of which involved grim supernatural justice being done on some wrongdoer.
Ron Leighton’s short story “Child of Chaos” simultaneously evokes Abercrombie, Jackson, and Gaines. As in Joe Abercrombie of First Law fame for the setting and characters, horror icon Shirley Jackson of “The Lottery” for plot and theme, and William Gaines, publisher of EC comics for the ending. The story deals with a group of iron-age villagers who must decide how to deal with an unwelcome visitor to the town’s granary. The village elders argue amongst themselves about whether the stunted and deformed creature they’ve captured, the “Child of Chaos,” is truly a monster. Should it be killed or released? Has the town’s food supply been defiled by the touch of a demon, or should the creature be treated like any other trespassing animal?
First let me say that Ron Leighton can write. He’s got pro level skills. The time, place, and setting are all painted in deft strokes. There’s none of the purple similes and overdone description of fantasy novices who are trying too hard. This little one-act is primarily a dialogue piece, and Leighton’s exchanges are spot-on and snappy. These are real villagers arguing among themselves. The clichés are kept to an absolute minimum. Like Jackson’s famous “Lottery,” “Child of Chaos” is all about the conflict between Society and the Outsider. There’s even a little bit of Dogma vs. Reason thrown in. As for the ending (which I will not give away,) well, as the Crypt Keeper would say, “Heh, heh, heh!” “Child of Chaos” is very short, but well worth reading ‘cause it’s so well written. I’d give it 3 ½ stars out of five. See you soon!