Written, illustrated, and published by K.M. Claude, NINETY-NINE RIGHTEOUS MEN is an erotic horror comic about a priest desperate to save his young parishioner from the clutches of a demon prince. In doing so, he must enlist the help of the last person he ever wanted to see again. This comic deals with issues of sexuality, religious corruption, and features some sexual nudity and gore.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I’ve known K.M. Claude for almost a decade and I was able to watch this comic develop from initial concept to finished product. I also had very high expectations for it, knowing the quality of Claude’s storytelling and artwork. Every expectation I had was met, then exceeded.
The art is rich with clever details, things that you might not notice until the second or third time you read through and take the time to notice little things in the background, movement of the characters’ eyes, or subtle shifts in appearance as the oppression of the demonic presence becomes more severe. The demon doesn’t just affect its host either, as other characters around it are drawn in and slowly changed as well. While we’re on the topic of the demon, the design of this creature is the most interesting design for a demon I have ever seen. It’s completely unique, beautiful while still being terrifying and sinister, and its presence seeps from the panels into the white space as if it’s inhabiting the comic itself.
Another stunning design decision I’d like to mention is the use of space and the shape of panels as a storytelling device in itself. The comic starts off with very neat frames, until certain characters start to show up and influence the story, then the frames become more jagged, or lopsided and unbalanced. It shifts seamlessly from open, exposed sections to tight, jagged panels full of detail with barely any room to breathe. Inserted into the growing tension are a couple of two-page spreads that almost shock with their sudden appearance. These pages are mostly textless, so there’s nothing to distract from the art and the moment of horror they portray. One section in particular features two pages in carefully blocked out panels, each one detailing in close-up how the character is trying to control his thoughts while they strain to clash against what he’s doing in the moment. There’s also no real indication of how you’re meant to read these pages, which makes the conflict between the contrasting scenes even more disturbing.
The story itself, the relationships between the characters, is complex and compelling. I won’t say that it quite feels true-to-life, because the horror element definitely comes in quick, but it does feel like the same attention that was paid to the art was paid to the story as well. Research isn’t compromised to fit the story, which is something I’ve seen a lot of in horror; rather it weaves seamlessly into the story, the backgrounds of the characters, and the mythology of the demon.
The only thing that I didn’t like was that with characters and a plot as complicated as this, there were a couple places where the story felt a little bit rushed. I would have loved to see more development in the relationship between the two priests, and a slightly more drawn out ending. But those are mostly selfish wishes because I really love these characters. And considering this was written and illustrated by one person working on a time constraint, what we have is amazing. As far as debut features are concerned, this one shows the kind of maturity and boldness that I’ve rarely seen in independent publications, and I’m looking forward to seeing what K.M. Claude has for us in the future.
FINAL RATING: 9/10