Review: Polybius Dreams #1 by Jerry Whitworth
Creepypastas, or horror-based urban legends from the internet, have grown in popularity in recent years with the likes of Slender Man, Candle Cove, and Jeff the Killer entering the mainstream. However, one of the earliest creepypastas is making a resurgence on the printed page. The Polybius legend is of an arcade cabinet video game called Polybius distributed by mysterious men in black to a handful of arcades in the Portland, Oregon area in 1981. These machines acted as part of a psychological experiment, one that made players addicted to it, induced various psychological affects (amnesia, night terrors, sleepwalking, depression, seizures, hallucinations, etc), and led to some committing suicide before the game disappeared a mere month after debuting. As with the other noted creepypastas, there are people out there who believe in the existence of this game (which some attribute to the early version of the 1981 Atari game Tempest which reportedly gave a player a migraine in Portland). The phenomenon surrounding Polybius even led to the development of a documentary from Todd Luoto, Jon Frechette, and Dylan Reiff that, due to lack of funds, culminated into a currently ongoing seven-part podcast series centering around Bobby Feldstein who claims the game was real and played a part in his supposed abduction (as well as the abduction of at least one other child). About six months ago, a crowdfunding effort would begin to produce the first issue of a comic book based on the legend of Polybius. Titled Polybius Dreams, Ben Grisanti, Keith Grachow, and Ester Salguero through Grisanti’s Hypnotic Dog Comics recently published its first issue and are currently crowdfunding for its second chapter of the four part series. Following a trio of lovable losers in Patrick, Paul, and Michael in 1986 Autumn Hill, NY, a mysterious new game called Polybius arrives in the small town’s arcade followed by the deaths of several youths. Friends with the arcade’s co-owner, the trio are given the opportunity to play the new addictive game after hours thus pulling them into the suspenseful mystery.
Admittedly, I knew very little of the Polybius legend going into the first issue of Polybius Dreams (it was only after some research for this article I realized I read a piece about it on Kotaku some years ago). The initial chapter establishes the mysterious nature of the game, the addictive quality of it, and the strange effect it seems to be producing on young people. Reminiscent in some ways of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes (1962) and Stephen King’s It (1986), the work has a certain sense of foreboding with its dreary artwork and depictions of the callous abuse of its protagonists by the surrounding cast. Sequences where dreams and reality blur the line between each other are also reminiscent of the A Nightmare on Elm Street series (minus the expletive-spouting scarred maniac with knives for fingers, of course) or, in more recent history, the Upside Down of Stranger Things (which itself, admittedly, borrowed from the Silent Hill franchise). However, despite taking place in the ’80s at a time when nostalgia for the decade is reaching a fever pitch, Polybius Dreams doesn’t seem overly concerned with trying to settle in the period but instead tell a story with it as a backdrop (i.e. the ’80s were the time period for the Polybius legend and when arcades were still popular in America). The heart of the work instead has more to do with three seemingly ordinary young boys thrust into an exceptional circumstance hinted at in the issue’s opening flashforward. Placed in danger from a place thought safe, Patrick, Paul, and Michael must now survive if not save those around them from a danger thus far unseen. As the first issue sets the stage specifically in the personal lives surrounding its players and the disruption this new element is beginning to unleash, it will be interesting to see how the story unravels moving forward as we dig into the mystery surrounding the Polybius game, what threat it is the boys face, and the aftermath of both the game’s influence and consequences for the trio’s actions. Is the Polybius game some portal to the paranormal or does it alter the perception of its players? What purpose does the game serve if it seemingly drives people to suicide? Or is suicide employed to cover up an even more fantastic development? What can three children hope to accomplish in the face of a mysterious entity which can seemingly control their very minds? Only the future three remaining installments can say. Should the second chapter be successfully crowdfunded by November 11, 2017, it is expected to be available digitally and in print July 2018.
You can check out Ben Grisanti on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Keith Grachow can be found on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Grisanti’s works, including Polybius Dreams #1, are available via Gumroad. You can preview the first issue here.