Reviewed this week: Harrow County by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook. ALSO: Quick thoughts on Arcadia by Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer, Mythic by Phil Hester and John McCrea, and Rick Spears and James Callahan’s The Auteur: Sister Bambi.
Harrow County #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
From the publisher: This town will make your skin crawl! Emmy always knew that the deep, dark woods surrounding her home crawled with ghosts, goblins, and zombies. But on the eve of her eighteenth birthday, she learns that she is connected to these creatures—and to the land itself—in a way she never imagined. Don’t miss the first issue of this southern gothic fairy tale from the creator of smash hit The Sixth Gun, beautifully and hauntingly realized by B.P.R.D.’s Tyler Crook!
Over the past ten years, writer Cullen Bunn has steadily built a reputation as one of American comics’ premier writers of occult and supernatural-themed action-adventure tales with his work on the Oni Press titles The Sixth Gun, The Damned, and Helheim. Artist Tyler Crook, on the other hand, has continued to live up to his 2012 Eisners nod for the Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award with his work on titles such as Petrograd, BPRD: Hell on Earth, and Bad Blood. Bunn and Crook already have one collaboration between them, the soon-to-conclude Sixth Gun spin-off miniseries Dust to Dust (previously discussed here). It is on the new series Harrow County, however, that we might be seeing the Bunn-Crook duo truly hit its creative stride.
Harrow County is of a piece with a number of Bunn’s most popular comics. Like The Damned, it’s an early 20th century period piece, although this time it’s situated in rural America instead of a sprawling city setting. Similar to The Sixth Gun, its supernatural conceit involves American occult folklore. With Harrow County, it also seems like Bunn is set to use the concept of the witch to address what we can describe as “the othering of women” in traditional societies, a theme the writer has explored to a limited extent in Helheim and its spin-off, Brides of Helheim: In this new comic, a witch is tortured and killed by superstitious townsfolk, which sets off a years-long occult revenge plot that will apparently be expressed through the offspring of the witch’s killers, your basic “sins of the father”-type deal.
It’s true that the comic has similarities to Bunn’s previous material, but what we see in the first issue of Harrow County is more than just a simple restating of previously advanced creative premises. For one thing, Bunn’s writing in the comic features a tenor reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Dark Carnival horror short stories—there’s a mellifluous rhythm to the dialogue that harks back to the language of the pulps of the 1940s. And while the use of third-person narration has fallen out of favor in popular comics-writing in recent years, Bunn employs the technique with finesse—it’s appropriate to the subject matter without coming off as anachronistic. The writing style has been tailored to evoke a specific period and genre, and it is all the better for it.
Crook’s work—the artist handles both the illustration and coloring duties in the issue—provides a perfect complement to Bunn’s text. The storybook-like charm to the imagery serves up a delightfully disquieting contrast to the comic’s occult horror. Crook has gone for a painterly approach to the colors, but it doesn’t descend into inscrutable muddiness nor does it overwhelm the strong linework. Figures and props are distinct, and characters’ poses, gestures, and expressions scan easily off the page.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the issue also features a one-page “Tales of Harrow County” back-up story penned by Bunn with art by Owen Gieni (Avengelyne, Glory), intended to further sketch out the character of the setting.
Brilliant, bracing stuff. Highly recommended.
Arcadia #1 (BOOM! Studios): The debut issue of Alex Paknadel and Eric Scott Pfeiffer’s Arcadia wastes no time establishing its near-future science-fiction premise: As a last-ditch solution to a global pandemic that threatens to wipe out the human race, the consciousness of 99 percent of the world’s population is, at the brink of death, digitized and uploaded to a cloud-based digital world called Arcadia where people no longer have to fear death or growing old. The problem is that no matter how perfect the simulation, people are by their nature flawed. Strong-arm politics, economic inequity, and social discontent have similarly made the transition from the physical world to the digital space.
Meanwhile, in the physical world, the pandemic survivors tirelessly maintain Arcadia’s servers even as the virtual world’s demands for expansion continue to drain resources, held hostage by the fact that only Arcadia’s scientists have the scientific know-how to create new drugs to keep the constantly evolving pandemic virus at bay.
An intriguing metaphor for the class conflict. Keep an eye out for this one.
Mythic #1 (Image Comics): Acclaimed, fan-favorite creators Phil Hester (Green Arrow, The Coffin) and John McCrea (Hitman, Superboy) team up on Mythic, an action-horror comic with comedy elements.
Mythic features tightly-executed hybrid genre entertainment—the comic’s premise can be summed up as “Men in Black but with supernatural monsters and creatures from myth instead of aliens”—that is likely to find fans among those who enjoy Mike Mignola and John Arcudi’s B.P.R.D. or Chris Dingess and Matthew Roberts’ Manifest Destiny and is bound to perk up the ears of film, TV, and video game producers looking for new properties to adapt. McCrea’s art on this issue is a most notable highlight. The 1999 Eisner Award winner (for Best Single Issue, shared with writer Garth Ennis for their work on Hitman #34) is in fine, fine form here.
The Auteur: Sister Bambi #1 (Oni Press): With the original Auteur miniseries (recently reissued in paperback as The Auteur: President’s Day), writer Rick Spears and artist James Callahan’s depicted an extreme satire of Hollywood industry politics. Based on the first issue of the sequel The Auteur: Sister Bambi, the pair is intent on doubling down on the tack. In this new miniseries, the deluded and drug-addled film director Nathan T. Rex—the comic’s eponymous auteur—is now persona non grata in the major studio system, his last film President’s Day bombing spectacularly with critics and the box-office. Wandering through the desert, he comes to an epiphany, disavowing big-budget Hollywood and embarking on a grand plan to secure independent financing for his next feature film project. What Rex finds out, however, is that the independent-filmmaking landscape might even be more lunatic than what he describes as the “dehumanizing hellhole” of Hollywood.
As with the previous miniseries, much of the intended humor in Sister Bambi lies in the ridiculously over-the-top character portrayals and situations—this is MAD on steroids, with topics such as race, religion, sexuality, and politics all subject to the shotgun blast of the creative team’s satire. Make no mistake, Spears isn’t just calling on lazy, “equal opportunity offender” tricks here—there’s nuance for those looking for it—but readers prone to pearl-clutching might get cramps after reading this issue.