Editor's Note: Stand: American Nightmares #3 arrives in stores Thursday, May 28.
Unlike previous issues of The Stand: American Nightmares, the vast majority of this issue concentrates on just two characters, Larry and Rita, and their attempt to escape from a superflu-ravaged New York. This leads to a terrifying journey through the Lincoln Tunnel, which is full of abandoned motor vehicles and dead bodies, making traversing it a grim prospect for our two protagonists.
Interestingly, I found this issue to be one of the most effectively horrific chapters of the series yet, despite the absence of any scary action sequences or the malevolent presence of Randall Flagg. From the early image of a hanged looter to the desperate sexual advances of a lone survivor, the issue makes it clear that this story is as much about humanity's self-inflicted horrors as it is about any outside element -- and that only makes it all the more disturbing.
The centerpiece of the issue is Larry and Rita's journey through the Lincoln Tunnel, and it's a scene that's captured perfectly by both writer and artist. There's a tense, horror-movie atmosphere to the sequence, with the constant darkness (many panels are completely black) punctuated only by occasional visions of the dead, illuminated by Larry's cigarette lighter. Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa ratchets up the tension even further by including occasional flashes of Larry's own nightmarish fantasies, blurring the line between the reality of his situation and his worst-case scenario in order to convey his feelings even more effectively. Anyone who has ever laid awake at night and jumped every time they heard the sound of footsteps or a door creaking will know what I'm talking about: now take that feeling, and apply it to a post-apocalyptic world that has been overrun by a deadly virus, and you'll come close to capturing the tone of this issue.
Mike Perkins' artwork is as effective as ever, with his shots of Larry's unpleasant fantasies standing out amongst the equally effective (yet significantly more low-key) panels in the tunnel sequence. The shots of the New York City streets feel highly realistic, too: this sentiment is reinforced by the issue's backmatter, which shows just how extensively the artist used photo references in order to capture an authentic vision of the city.
This is one of the most focused, chilling issues of The Stand yet. Much of the credit must be due to Stephen King for his original concept, but Aguirre-Sacasa and Perkins bring King's story to life wonderfully, capturing the atmosphere of the story perfectly. What's more, it's very accessible as a jumping-on point: you could give this book to someone who had never read an issue of The Stand, and they would still be able to understand and enjoy it. However, for established readers of the book, it's a high point of the story so far, and one that perfectly encapsulates the grim horror and unpleasantness that has permeated the rest of the series.
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