The Replacer is a comic book – or as Aftershock's bureau of public relation affairs calls it, a “64-Page Graphic Novella” – that deeply immerses the reader into the daily affairs evolving around a medical patient's history proceeding from a vascular cerebral incident. So the subhead placed beneath a cover that's imitating the outlook of an old VHS tape shouldn't read, “Home is where the horror is” but “People taking care of you is where the horror is.”
Its topic is basically similar to the recently released Dementia 21 by Shintaro Kago, who also visited the area of taking care of others, but for Kago the chosen subject matter of elderly care management offered an opportunity to stage a black comedy, not a journey through the monstrous challenges for one caught in the treadmill of continuous care – though sometimes grim truths can't be suppressed, hence Dementia 21's jungle war episode, in which protégés turn into perfidious booby traps.
Obviously all these themes are huge taboos in a society where no one ever really dies or dares to think about what might come before that day. And just in case you're not aware, the keywords are: emotional suffering, physical pain and utter disability next to dependency, helplessness, shame, discrimination and probable bankruptcy. That's before you got to the accusations by those who have to deal with the consequences of your disablement that it might have been founded by your previous lifestyle choices.
Writer Zac Thompson is actually doing autobio stuff here, as his father suffered from a stroke in the mid-nineties. He tells the story through the eyes of a seven year old persona named Marcus, who, in a tremendous lack of understanding, visualizes an otherworldly entity and blames it for his father being shut-in in his body. See, that's how people cope with these things: they flee into religion – like Marcus' mom does – or develop a chain-smoking habit to calm down all these daunting thoughts of a bright future now rendered impossible, as his sister does.
This could easily run off the rails by becoming a Spielberg-produced haunted house drama centered around a pre-adolescent wise guy, but it doesn't. Credit for this goes to the writing which also looks at the surrounding environment being born mostly out of sheer uncertainty, like those neighbors, priests or physiotherapists who are offering simplistic survival-of-the-fittest world views, philosophies much more harmful and horrible than any creature from the depths of hell could ever be. You may not, at least to the eyes of some, be completely responsible for what hit you, but at least you could fight the good fight of faith. True compassion is a fucking hard-earned reward.
Another important factor in this not becoming an arbitrary farce is Arjuna Susini. Susini, who already provided some stellar artwork for the Paul Tobin-written Made Men from 2017, delivers a style which shows influences from 1950s horror comics. His use of different facial expressions over several sequences is an uncommon feature in contemporary comics, and displays his capability to take a close look at human interactions, thus bringing up a necessary feature for a comic discussing the complexities aggravating human relationships. The linework, meticulously chronicling every wrinkle as well as partial dislocations, reminds one of Graham Ingels and his creatures made up from body parts and spread around haphazardly like in the now classic Horror we? How's Bayou? from 1953.
Making a tracheostomized patient the supposed host of a creature feeding off irrational fear one more equivocal plot point is brilliant, not only because respiration constitutes a basic premise for communication i.e. phonation, but due to its association with breathing a soul into lifeless things, as it gets projected in here. And the tracheal secretion that's always lurking down below, is – mostly by its color, but also by its texture – a tracer for a brooding infection, of which pneumonia might be the most common due to the anatomical location within the human body. Just like in comics, if you look at the Kermit-colored shit the dudes of Comicsgate are cranking out of their bowels.
Meanwhile Thompson and Susini, by arranging three consecutive and almost silent pages about a son simultaneously filled with suspiciousness and concern nightwatching his father, create a masterpiece of empathetic depiction, demonstrated in the fall of the folds of the bedlinen alone.
So after all and in every way, what's getting replaced here by a demon is not the human soul. It's the compassion for the real needs of another.