Written by John Allison, the creator of Giant Days, illustrated by Christine Larsen and coloured by Sarah Stern, By Night is an exciting sci-fi romp, which follows the adventures of a pair of twenty-somethings who bite off more than they can chew when a bit of idle mischief leads them to an amazing discovery.
Jane has recently moved back to her hometown of Spectrum and is living with her parents while working a boring job at a lab and wondering what became of all her hopes and ambitions. That’s when her one-time best-friend, Heather, shows up looking to reconnect and drags her out to the old Charlesco factory to do some urban exploring. Once the life blood of their small town, Charlesco has been shut down for years, after its founder, Chet Charles, went missing while traveling abroad. A trust fund has kept the facilities guarded and maintained for decades, but now the money’s finally run out and the old estate has been recently abandoned, making now the perfect time to check it out, before it’s ransacked and wrecked by local teens and hoodlums. While snooping around, Heather and Jane come across a curious device hidden away in the back of a supply closet and, when they turn it on, they’re shocked to discover that it creates a portal which leads to another dimension! Jane realizes that this wondrous discovery will make the perfect subject for a documentary film; one that will surely allow her to achieve her dreams and get rich doing it. Meanwhile, Heather thinks that helping Jane to explore and film this other world will give her the perfect opportunity to repair their broken friendship. Together, these two girls are about to have the adventure of their lives!
By Night features both high-stakes action, with potentially world changing implications, and small, personal dramas, that are no less compelling for their mundanity. A fantastical world full of danger and excitement is contrasted against a dull and decaying small town, destroyed by the loss of its primary industry, and the enigma of Chet Charles is juxtaposed against the question of what exactly caused the falling out between Jane and Heather before they both left for college. I found myself equally sucked in by the mysteries surrounding the other world and by the hilarious interactions between the lead characters, which keep the story feeling grounded – the presence of goblins, talking skeletons and giant, killer bugs not-withstanding. The characters in this comic feel like real, every day people, except maybe a bit funnier. Their quippy dialogue is comprised of a never ending stream of sarcastic comments, witty retorts and pop-culture references, which help to maintain a light and humorous tone, even when things start to get dangerous for our heroes. The comedy in this series really appealed to my sense of humor and I laughed out loud at more than few of Heather or Jane’s pithy one-liners.
Whether it’s because they feel like genuine people or because they’re so unflappably funny, the characters are probably By Night’s greatest selling point. Jane is straight-laced, responsible and more than a little resentful about having to move back home. She gave up on film as a potential career because she didn’t feel like she was good enough to make it, but still wants more out of her life then what her current situation offers. Heather, meanwhile, is a college drop-out who lacks direction and, while she acts chipper and care-free, has numerous regrets. Her one goal, at the moment, is to make things right between herself and Jane. In a very true-to-life moment, the ultimate cause of the rift between Jane and Heather doesn’t turn out to be some big betrayal, it’s instead a relatively minor incident that doesn’t feel like it should have been a friendship ending event, when taken on its own. The significance of this transgression lies in the fact that it marked the culmination of a long series of minor grievances and building resentments, rather than because it was so awful in and of itself, and that felt very real to me. Sometimes relationships are destroyed due to a singular, terrible action, but sometimes they deteriorate due to smaller problems that go unaddressed for too long, until things finally reach a breaking point, like in this case. Jane and Heather are very different people and that led to a lot of friction in their relationship, but that’s also what makes them such a fun pair and I enjoyed their interactions a lot.
As great as they are, Heather and Jane aren’t the only awesome characters in this comic. Rounding out the cast are Chip, Heather’s Dad and the former manager of the Charlesco security detail, and Barney, Jane’s co-worker who gets roped into helping with the film project and who has a few secrets of his own. Chip, having recently lost his job, is currently at loose-ends and has plenty of time to tag along on his daughter’s adventures and kick some ass whenever it’s needed, all while dispensing folksy wisdom and some choice dad-jokes. He’s probably my favourite character in the series. There’s also Gardt, a little, green goblin-man they meet in the other dimension, who loves pop-culture from the 80’s and seems to know the enigmatic Chet Charles. Gardt acts as the human character’s guide during their early excursions through the portal and he’s a real sweetheart, who happens to have a talking skeleton stashed in his coat, for some reason. Maybe I missed something, but I don’t think we ever got an explanation of what was up with that. Regardless, this odd, little Scooby-Gang of a cast are an endearing bunch of characters and it was a treat to read about their various shenanigans.
Despite its strong writing and the excellent job it did of establishing the characters, By Night unfortunately doesn’t quite stick the landing when it comes to the conclusion of its story and the series winds up feeling very anti-climactic as a result. Our principle heroes aren’t even aware of the evil plans of the person who ultimately winds up being the series’ main villain and they are completely uninvolved in the events that thwart them and their schemes. It’s an unsatisfying ending, to say the least. In addition to this, the various other story threads are all wrapped up in a manner that feels too rushed. Jane, out of no-where, has a change-of-heart and decides that exposing the existence of the other-world wouldn’t be right and instead creates a successful documentary about the decline of the Town of Spectrum. Heather moves to a new town and joins a band, something she hadn’t expressed any prior interest in, and even Chip gets a new job with the local police force. And what of the fractious friendship between Jane and Heather? That issue just kind of goes away. They don’t have any real talk about why they stopped being friends or the problems that they have with each other. Heather simply manages to solve one of the problems related to the making of the movie, mostly by accident, and, because she came through in this one instance, all is apparently forgiven. It’s a limp resolution to what, I’d say, was the central conflict of the comic, but it doesn’t seem like Heather and Jane stay in good contact after Heather moves away, so maybe we weren’t meant to be that invested in these two patching things up.
By Night is an entertaining action comic with great characters and an intriguing mystery, but I feel that it would have benefitted from having a few more volumes so that it could flesh out the story a bit more and provide a more rousing climax. Despite this, By Night is a, mostly, enjoyable series and I’d say it’s worth checking out if you’re looking for something funny and modern with a dash of the fantastical.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
For more information on this series, check out Boom! Studio’s website: http://www.boom-studios.com/series/by-night/
What did you think of this series? Were you happier with the ending or do you agree with my take? Let me know in the comments.
You can also check out my review of another of John Allison’s comics, Steeple:
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