CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 6. . . .October 9, 2015
Scare Scape: The Midnight Door.
Sam Fisher. Illustrated by Sam Bosma. Comic Illustrations by Dave Cullen.
New York, NY: Scholastic Press (Distributed in Canada by Scholastic Canada), 2015.
281 pp., hardcover, $13.50.
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Todd Kyle.
“He’s lying,” she whispered crossly. “I don’t know how he did it. But he did. Somehow he snuck back into the house without you seeing him.”
“What makes you so sure?” Morton asked.
“Look, James is very smart, but he’d make a terrible spy,” Melissa said. “He had dirt on his face and leaves in his hair.”
Morton nodded silently. He hadn’t been close enough to see the dirt, but something else had occurred to him. Something must have scared away the rats, something that even a swarm of giant Two-Headed Mutant Rodents would be afraid of, and only one creature came to mind: the Wargle Snarf, with its fear-inducing pheromone.
“What are we going to do?” Morton sighed.
“Watch him like a hawk,” Melissa said.
In this sequel to Scare Scape, middle-grader Morton and his older siblings, James and Melissa, think that the monsters from Morton’s favorite comic are no longer alive, their three inadvertent magic wishes having been reversed. But they soon see signs that some monsters have survived, even the fearsome Wargle Snarf. But this time it turns out it is not James transmogrifying into the Snarf; it is school bully Brad, and the siblings and their friends need to track down comic artist John King’s adopted brother, Sydenham Crooks, to find a magical book to help halt the transformation and rid their world of the monsters once and for all.
The “Scare Scape” series spins the fascination of one boy for a monster comic into fantastical adventure and mystery, and this installment is no exception. The monsters are as usual campy and over the top, and the story alternates between creepy horror, exciting action, dark comedy, and school and sibling relationship drama. The latter is sometimes a little awkward. Character development is shallow and even clichéd at times—which would be fine if the horror and action were always front and centre, but there is much emphasis on relationships at times, adding to the somewhat tedious progression of the story. References to the siblings’ dead mother are somewhat out of place while Morton’s petulant friendship with Robbie is at least believable. Pathos is developed towards bully Brad, leading readers to sympathize with his desperation to stop changing into a monster, and the references to Brad’s poor family life are not too obvious as a cause for his (former) intimidating behavior. But the story would have been better off without Morton moralizing on why he shouldn’t use magic to get out of a difficult homework assignment!
As usual, the mystery and the magical plot are highly complex, leading readers on a roller-coaster of a journey toward the final scene where Crooks is defeated and the magic spells undone. The constant barrage of new monsters and suddenly-magical toys from ads at the back of the comic is fascinating and even comical, and, as with the previous book, the centre “monster deck” brings a sort of grotesque relief. The best part of the book, though, is the “bonus” Scare Scape comic story at the end, showing the origins of the Snarf myth in the only part of the book that is truly horrifying without trying to be contemporary. While not a gem, Scare Scape:The Midnight Door will still find its fans.
Todd Kyle is the CEO of the Newmarket Public Library in Ontario.
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