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Friday, November 6, 2020

‘The First Death of Laurie Strode’: Stefan Hutchinson Opens Up the Final Comic That Never Was [Phantom Limbs]

phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.

Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.

As it’s turned out, we here at Bloody Disgusting have one last Halloween treat for readers today, nearly a week after Spooky Season officially ended. Phantom Limbs will be covering the Halloween franchise once more, this time taking a look at the final, sadly unpublished issue of the Devil’s Due Publishing comic book Halloween: The First Death of Laurie Strode. Joining us for this chat will be writer Stefan Hutchinson, the writer of both this series and other Halloween comics, who will not only shed a light on the end of First Death, but on his master plan for the entire Halloween comics line as well. Mr. Hutchinson was also kind enough to allow us to run unpublished artwork for this article, which can be found throughout.


After having written two prior comic books dealing with Michael Myers, Mr. Hutchinson began penning a line of Halloween comics for Devil’s Due Publishing, which began with the intense and genuinely creepy four issue series Halloween: Nightdance in early 2008. Boasting an excellent script and gorgeous art by Hack/Slash creator Tim Seeley, Nightdance effectively reclaimed the Shape from the many film sequels that had trotted the character out as a simple slasher, to better and worse effect, and returned him to the enigmatic, prankster boogeyman of John Carpenter’s ’78 original. (to read more on this line, click this link.)

Following on from Nightdance and the anthology one-shot Halloween: 30 Years of Terror (featuring five tales set within the Halloween universe, all penned by Hutchinson), Devil’s Due began releasing the three-part storyline The First Death of Laurie Strode. As its title suggests, this particular arc was meant to cover the events which led young Laurie Strode to fake her death and relocate to California as Halloween: H20’s Keri Tate. Penciled by Vampirella/Grimm Fairy Tales artist Jeff Zornow, Hutchinson’s tale focuses on a young Laurie Strode as she navigates her final year of high school while dealing with the emotional fallout of the trauma she endured throughout the first two Halloween films.

‘The First Death of Laurie Strode’ #3 Cover Art by Shaun McManus, Colors by Nick Filardi

The first two issues work as a tragic character study, presenting Laurie as a broken individual who struggles with the revelation that she’s been adopted, which has driven a wedge between she and her parents. Even worse, Laurie is taken in by classmate Sally, who proves to be a toxic influence drawing her down a questionable path. Along the way, our heroine begins seeing Michael everywhere, which is presented as being possible post-trauma hallucinations, before strange happenings begin haunting both Laurie and the town of Haddonfield. Hutchinson weaves in some fascinating threads throughout this story, including bits with young Michael and his sister Judith, Sam Loomis returning to Haddonfield to right his mistakes, and even a short-lived appearance by paramedic Jimmy from Halloween II. Eventually, Michael appears – dressed in an adult-sized variation of the clown costume he once wore as a child. And then…

And then, sadly, the third issue never came. Due to reported financial issues, Devil’s Due Publishing was unable to release the final installment of this fascinating comic, leaving its story maddeningly incomplete. To add insult to injury, the second issue also boasted an ad for a follow-up miniseries titled The Mark of Thorn.

So what happened? “This is the short and simple version,” Mr. Hutchinson begins, describing why the Halloween comics line came to an untimely end before The First Death of Laurie Strode reached its conclusion. “The books were doing well and selling, but the promised payments didn’t get beyond the publisher. That’s myself, the artists (Jeff Zornow, in particular), and even the license holders. Jeff had worked for three months and hadn’t received a cent, and that’s not fair or sustainable. I don’t know where the money went, but I can tell you where it didn’t.”

That’s right. Financial problems killed an iconic boogeyman far more effectively than either bullets or flame. So after two issues of First Death set up Laurie’s struggles in the fallout of the events covered in the first two Halloween films, how would the third issue have wrapped up this story and set Laurie on the path to becoming Keri Tate from Halloween: H20? “It’s a tricky one to discuss, because it’s not really a ‘plot’ issue as much as it is an exploration of theme and character. The final issue takes place on Halloween night, 1979, so the series as a whole covers the year after that fateful night in the original two films.

‘The First Death of Laurie Strode’ #3 Artwork by Jeff Zornow

“Laurie has surrounded herself with friends, but at this point, it’s hard for her to think of anything but The Shape. She’s trying to block everything out with drugs and alcohol, but it’s not working, and there’s the very real possibility that The Shape will return. Loomis certainly thinks this, so he sets off into the night to be ready for whatever comes. It’s not so easy now though, because the townsfolk know him and not all of them think too kindly of him. Mobs are walking the street.

“What we see are the final moments that lead to the decision to fake her death. The act of her faking her death isn’t something the issue particularly deals with in depth, because that’s just legal, really, and not interesting. It’s about the moments leading to that decision, and Laurie’s attempt to find some peace. It’s a horror story, as always, but also a sad, and hopefully moving, story that delves into the wounding effects of 1978 on her and Haddonfield as a whole.”


And what of The Mark of Thorn, the next comic arc which certainly sounds like a tie-in to the continuity of Halloween 6? Given that the DDP comic line followed the H20 continuity, which retconned Halloweens 4-6 out of existence, what exactly would Mark’s story have entailed? “I was writing this with Jeff Katz, and it’s likely there would have been a spin-off Thorn continuity which would have been written by Greg Mitchell.

‘The Mark of Thorn’ Cover Art by Chee

“The story was set-up in 30 Years of Terror, and follows Tommy Doyle. He now lives in Salt Lake City, and he is comic book writer and artist creating a fictional storyline as his way of coping. We come to realize that Tommy’s story didn’t end in 1978, and the events in between then and now have left him in a very fragile state. These events involve characters we already know, such as Lindsey Wallace, and characters we’ve seen on-screen but not in the comics or their continuity, such as Rachel Carruthers.

The comics within the comics would involve a new version of the Thorn storyline, reinventing the Man In Black as a more mysterious figure – somewhere between Randall Flagg and Jim Jones in a lot of ways – with a very large cult as he lays siege to Haddonfield in the search for Jamie Lloyd. The Shape in this story provides a contrast to the one in our main continuity, being more brutish and physically imposing. It’s Tommy’s attempt to understand what happened and reconcile it that leads to this storyline within.

“One of the key driving forces within Tommy is a sense that he never did enough (and there’s more to his story than that night in 1978). We somewhat imply that every time the Shape kills, he’s essentially slaughtering Judith Myers again, reliving that primal moment. For Tommy, it’s the opposite – he’s failing to save the same victim over and over again by doing nothing, or at least that’s how he is starting to see it. In his fictional world, he thinks he can save this girl, whoever she is. There’s an influence of Hitchcock’s Vertigo in how the character is approached.

“Inevitably, both realities start to blur, and events in each world trigger events in the other, leading to a gory body count and Tommy’s family themselves being in real danger. By the end of the story, we can see not only this ending, but the many ways that all of these things could have unfolded, including the possibilities of the middle Halloween film trilogy, so it essentially gives the canon to the reader to decide.”


With 30 Years, Nightdance, First Death, and Mark of Thorn, there appears to be a wider, connected story at play with all of these various entries. Was there a big picture with this line, and what was its possible endgame if so? “The material that came out comprises about the first third or so of the whole storyline. The working title for everything was Black Rose (although some of my notes say Black Garden), and that imagery was seeded throughout, the idea that this overwhelming darkness is growing all around.

‘The First Death of Laurie Strode’ #3 Artwork by Jeff Zornow

With having the benefit of a long-form storytelling medium, the stories and lives of the people caught in The Shape’s wake would be followed over decades. Not just Laurie, Loomis and the obvious characters, but Tommy, Brackett, Sally and the cursed citizens of Haddonfield who all have deep, psychological scars. It’s the escalation of the character and mythology – from small-town serial killer, to legendary boogeyman. Along the way, we visit the characters before the Shape arrives in Haddonfield in 1978. In the 90s, there’s The Babysitter Murders, a large storyline in Chicago where Loomis faces off against the Shape once more, and in the 2000s, The Frozen Ghost, a tragic tale set in the snow as Brackett attempts to escape the pain of his daughter’s loss that continues to haunt him. There’s a lot of plot points set up for these stories in what was already released, such as the seemingly random murders in Haddonfield throughout the 1980s, the ongoing story of David Loomis [Sam Loomis’ son], and the nearest thing to a final girl for the whole line, Monica. Monica had not yet appeared directly, but there are hints to her character’s appearance in the comics and the bonus material in the trade for Nightdance.

“In the final issue of First Death, we establish that there’s a similar sequence of events happening over and over again (in the same way the sequels have the same structure, certain images and motifs, like car crashes, etc. appear repeatedly), which is built on the ‘fate never changes’ line. The Shape is reliving the same moment, but his evil and malice is growing as the years pass, and it leads to a question. Can this cycle – or ritual – be broken, and is there someone who can do it?”


Sadly, Mr. Hutchinson’s grand plans for the Halloween comics have not yet come to pass. Is there any chance that it could possibly be revived by another publisher some day? “At the moment, I’d say it’s very unlikely. So much time has passed, and everyone involved was left disenchanted by how everything behind-the-scenes unfolded. I don’t think now is the right time either way though, given the new continuity unfolding on the screen right now, which is doing exactly what it needed to do and connecting with large audiences. And it seems that Halloween Kills will redefine the character in many people’s eyes.

“That said, maybe after Halloween Ends these could be looked at – the storyline is completely mapped out so there’s very little work to be done in that area, and it brings the H20 continuity to an end that I think honors and respects the original films.”

‘The Mark of Thorn’ Cover Art by Chee

What are his ultimate feelings on this particular undertaking, and its unfortunate and untimely end? “I’m obviously happy that I had the opportunity to tell these stories. It’s nice to see what seems to be a tiny bit of their influence in the last film (the Jack O’Lantern head), and its marketing (they had a fantastic Bill Sienkiewicz poster, and he provided two of the covers for the first issue of Nightdance).

“With writing comics and not an actual film, I was also in a privileged position to tell the stories how I wanted to. I only really had to answer to Malek Akkad, rather than a test audience and a thousand studio execs, and he’s great in that regard – he’s very supportive of writers and fresh ideas. I don’t see any other way of having that freedom.

“It is frustrating because it’s unfinished. I think the final issue of First Death would have cemented the line’s direction, rather than leaving only a very vague question mark. A lot of time, care and love was put into the whole line, and even the supporting material, but the majority of that work will likely remain unseen.

“What is nice is that, to this day, I get e-mails from people who have discovered the books and got something out of them. I know they’re not for everyone (and I don’t think you can write for everyone with a franchise that already has multiple interpretations of its antagonist), but they worked for me, and I managed to portray the Shape as the monster that scared the hell out of me all of those years ago. In the end, that’s only a good thing.”


Very special thanks to Stefan Hutchinson for his time and insights.

Additional thanks to Travis Mullins for helping to put this interview together.

‘The Mark of Thorn’ Cover Art by Paul Azaceta

‘The Mark of Thorn’ Cover Art by Jock



source https://bloody-disgusting.com/editorials/3640491/first-death-laurie-strode-stefan-hutchinson-opens-final-comic-never-phantom-limbs/

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