Managing ambiguity in storytelling can be tricky. A writer will want to leave certain elements concealed to build suspense or have elements open to interpretation. Although without adequately addressing the ‘who, what, when, why and how’, the audience could be left scratching their heads or even be frustrated with the lack of an explanation. Enter The Gates of Dawn, a short graphic novel published by SuperUltraGo! that relies heavily on ambiguity to build tension and open the text to some healthy discussion. In many ways The Gates of Dawn succeeds at telling a suspenseful horror tale, in others, I would have preferred less ambiguity.
You’re probably familiar with the plot. A young girl possesses ‘abilities’, and a shadowy organisation is in pursuit. It’s not the most original tale, and that’s why I was thankful writer Benjamin Finkel skipped the unnecessary origin story and dropped us right in the middle of the pursuit. Seriously, anyone who’s seen an X-Men film could adequately fill in those blanks. It’s even thirteen pages before we are introduced to the protagonists. The beginning of the book is reserved for the villain.
The characterisation of the villain is excellent. The giant brooding masked figure named Warface looks as though he could break bones with his forefingers if he were inclined to do so. It turns out he is incredibly polite and charismatic until he removes his mask and reveals his disfigured face to the motel receptionist.
The problem is that Warface is characterised so well that it draws attention to just how little the protagonists are developed. The young girl Clementine possesses some unusual abilities that she can’t control which results in some rather shocking events, but there is zero time spent learning anything else about her. Clementine’s adult protector is the same. He’s a man named Tom Dill and it’s obvious that he would do anything to protect Clementine, but I would have loved to know a little more about exactly who Tom Dill is. I probably sound like a hypocrite as this point, complementing the absence of an origin story then complaining about not knowing who the main characters are, it just feels unbalanced is all. Warface gets to show all sides of his personality, maybe Clementine and Tom should too.
The Gates of Dawn feels like a chapter of a larger story rather than a complete one. The story has a satisfying conclusion although it’s also open-ended and setup for a sequel. Warface reveals more about himself and where he comes from which I would love to explore. Then there’s the subject of the ‘gates’. Clementine has visions of them right before her unusual abilities kick in, adding a spiritual element to the story. I discussed this with my partner, and we both had different interpretations of the gates’ meaning. This ambiguity is what I love.
The Gates of Dawn has a lot of potential. It reveals that Benjamin Finkel can develop compelling villains and build tense confrontations. It also successfully highlights JC Thomas’ abilities as an artist. I don’t know enough about art to properly critique his style. but it’s unique and I can’t recall seeing anything like it. The problem is that this graphic novel doesn’t feature everything that It should for a self contained story. That’s why I’m hoping a sequel is on the way. It’s only 63 pages and $3.99 on Comixology. A full colour prestige format version of the book is also available.
Michael Vane is a freelance journalist and co-editor of PN2. He’s on Twitter @DrVane