In Review: Harrow County #1

Like Hester Beck, this is a slow burn that will have you afire for more once you begin.

The cover: A drawer is open, whether by its own will or by the will of its contents, revealing a skin sack of clothing. The eyes of the head are empty, but glow in yellow, while a vacant hand slow wills itself across the wooden floor to the carpeting. This illustration by interior artist Tyler Crook is designed to put you at unease. It’s not a graphic image, though the skin is mottled red in spots, but it is an image that readers cannot tear their sight from. What’s really in the rest of the box? Is it complete suit of skin? Is a man or woman? Is it a child? Accompanying this illustration, under a sensational country-fied title, is some praise from Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy, “A rare-thing–both wonderfully charming and genuinely disturbing.” That’s exactly what’s within, if one feels like making the trip. Great introductory image. Overall grade: A

The story: Rather than have the traditional credits on the inside front cover, a summary and story on the origin of “Haints” is given by writer Cullen Bunn. They are “…ghosts and ghouls lurking in lonely, forgotten, and unwelcoming places…They were like fingers of death, finding purchase in our world.” This ominous frontpiece goes darker when the story begins, showing several folk of Harrow County watching Hester Beck, a witch, put to death, hung from a tree. Her fall from grace is shown in four panels on the second page; it’s an evil ascension that becomes horrific and prompts her neighbors and friends to murder her. After the words from a Bible wash away in the rain during her killing, a farmer, Isaac, throws gasoline on her and lights her up. As the flames consume her she wails, “…Not the end…Never the end for me…I’ll be back again…Keep watch and be ready…Whether to tend or to murder…but I’ll see you all once more!” They watch her burn, but worry if what she’s stated will come to pass. The story then moves to a farm where Isaac and his seventeen, soon-to-be eighteen, year old daughter Emmy live. The book’s point of view shifts between the pair and the going ons at their farm. When the focus is on Emmy it’s obvious that she’s unaware of the county’s past with Hester Beck. She is as innocent as one can get, yet there are things that bother her and create a sense of dread in the reader, such as Haints and a particular tree. This is the best kind of horror: nothing explicitly terrible is happening, but there is an overpowering sense of dread behind the scenes. It’s the anticipation that something terrible will happen, and something does happen, in the barn, and then increases when Emmy ventures out on her own. Something wicked is coming to Harrow County, and I’m unable to look away. There’s also a one page short story titled “Baptism” that falls under the heading of Tales of Harrow County. It’s short and provides a creepy case for odd things occurring in the county before Emmy has her experience. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: Tyler Crook provides the art and the lettering of this book. This is a spectacular tour de force for him because he has complete control of every visual aspect, and a reader will not read this but experience it. The killing of Beck is a creepy thing, as the rain begins to fall on the townsfolk as the rope goes taut. The final panel on the first page increases the horrific nature of what’s being done. The second page is a great visual story of what Beck did to earn her place, hanging from the tree. When she’s lit aflame, it’s a graphic image that reminds one of Hammer horror in it’s shock and terror. There’s also a great touch in the final panel on Page 3: the rain is no longer falling straight down; it’s coming down diagonally. The double-paged spread of Pages 4 and 5 is a wonderful introduction to the primary setting of this issue, showing a landmark in the foreground that will feature prominently later in the story, and the title of the book gloriously floating in the sky. Page 8 is enough to generate nightmares for life, but what’s in the barn–and has been in the barn–is eminently more foreboding. The coloring of this book is terrific. I love the blush on characters’ cheeks and the skies are tremendous. There’s a lot of yellow and oranges used, dating this work before a specific time period can actually be determined. It gives the book a warmth that only fond memories can create. Yet Crook uses these colors to manipulate the reader into a false sense of nostalgia, as those same colors come to represent something else entirely in the end. The lettering is also good, with dialogue and narration (the same font), sounds, and a closing mumble of words looking great. This is fantastic looking. Looking just as good is “Baptism” by Owen Gieni. The expressions on the characters’ faces match the story perfectly and the explosion in panel four was unexpected and strong. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Like Hester Beck, this is a slow burn that will have you afire for more once you begin. Oh, and stay away from the trees. Overall grade: A+ 

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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