The debut of Matt Hawkins’ small-town gothic horror series Postal brought something rare and unique to the Image Comics roster this past spring. Set in the fictional (and ironically named) hamlet of Eden, its central character is Mark, a beleaguered twenty-something postman who uses his affliction with severe Asperger’s Syndrome to help solve a murder and a mystery or two in his hometown. Hawkins and writer Bryan Hill’s first-person narrative takes great pains to illustrate the Asperger’s thought process and how it pertains to Mark’s ability to pinpoint and decipher; the obsession with and attention to detail mandated by his condition become crime-solving strengths when properly channeled. It’s definitely a different take on the psychological suspense genre, as it is just as much the story of Mark’s personal struggles with assimilation, love and identity as a chronicle of the deep, dark secrets of Eden itself, and the extreme measures taken to keep them.
Postal’s fifth entry picks up after the events of Hawkins and Hill’s initial four-issue story arc, with Mark intercepting and transcribing all of Eden’s mail according to the wishes of the town’s ruthless mayor, who also happens to be his (ruthless) mother. A late-night drive down a dark back road leads to—where else?—trouble in the form of a mysterious, murderous hippie cult (and some VERY thinly veiled references to the Manson Family, right down to its members “Sissy ‘Squeaky’ Frummel” and “Patricia Velwinkle,” bwahahaha). It seems we’re left with a sort of laughably predictable outcome from there, but it may be preferable from a reader’s standpoint to view it as a catalyst for the ensuing internal struggle Mark endures, haunted by his father’s promise that his son will one day follow in his footsteps.
This issue was promoted as the beginning of a new story arc for the series, but I honestly couldn’t tell if it was meant to set up new subplots or intended as a standalone or perhaps transitional issue. The Diet Helter Skelter story was a bit too neatly resolved to build any real momentum. Still, I appreciated the nods and references to the previous arc, which kept me invested throughout. And Mark himself, thankfully, is enough of a fascinating, well-written character to garner a reader’s attention in any scenario. The ambience of Isaac Goodhart’s shadowy, spellbinding images further elevate the story; the texture-rich, almost childlike quality of the crimes of “Ball” (the fake Manson character) as filtered through Mark’s imagination are a particular standout, with Betsy Gonia’s colors lending a well-suited nightmarish quality to the visions of Mark’s (and, by proxy, Ball’s) mind.
Postal’s solid overall track record, compelling characters and consistent, visually appealing pages allow me to cut this book a little slack for the weak plot choice this time around. Who knows? Perhaps it’s all a means to a much more intriguing end in next month’s issue. Whatever awaits Mark in his idiosyncratic sleuthing endeavors, I will most assuredly be tuning in to find out.