Essence of Simmons. Echoing the title, this nasty, brutish, and short minicomic lays bare the preoccupations of the preeminent horror cartoonist of our time, exposing something painfully vulnerable, agonized, and stripped of hope. Ironically, it's Simmons's least sexually and viscerally explicit comic in recent memory: the corpse is long dead, its wounds an almost abstracted panoply of angular wrinkles and slashes; they resemble the extravagant crinkles in clothing drawn by John Romita Jr. more than the intimately unpleasant gore of Simmons comics like Cockbone or In a Land of Magic. The brutality, the bleakness, the power comes solely from the pronouncements of the silhouetted worthies who've gathered to conduct some sort of coroner's inquest over the body. Like a cross between the anatomy lessons painted by the Dutch masters and the dispassionate horror of the autopsy scene in The Silence of the Lambs, they debate the nature of the injuries, whether they were sustained pre- or post-mortem, and, when it's determined their victim was alive to feel every cut and slice and stab and blow and burn, whether the hope or reality of an afterlife offered him any succor. The answer, it will surprise no one who's read Simmons before to learn, is no. Indeed, rather than posit a universe in which individuals find respite in the infinite, Flayed Corpse argues that the opposite is true: The suffering we experience as we leave this life is our legacy to creation, the thing we bequeath to a universe growing darker and sicker by the moment. The comic is over almost before it begins, but pain, the only true thing, lingers.