Harrow County is an eerie southern gothic fairy tale, and after recently reading Bone Parish and now this, Cullen Bunn is becoming a favorite author of mine.
The opening pages begin with the hanging of suspected witch Hester Beck. As she is hanging from a tree while lit on fire, she swears revenge and tells the surrounding crowd that she will be back. This old burnt hanging tree is on the edge of the property of teen Emmy and her widowed father. Emmy is about to turn eighteen and is helping her father with a calf’s birth, when a traveling salesman and his granddaughter Bernice arrive on the farm. The two men speak privately about their worries that Emmy could be a reincarnated Hester, and that her birthday will reveal a hidden evil. Later when Emmy is exploring the nearby woods, she discovers her first haint, a skinless boy that speaks to her. It is his later warnings that alert Emmy that danger is near, and her seemingly kind father doesn’t even trust her. A showdown occurs, and secret alliances are revealed. Who can Emmy trust? Her father? Bernice? The skinned boy? Can she even trust herself?
The story has a lot of potential, as Emmy is shown as a young woman who is trying desperately to understand the mysteries of her possible origin and the decades long secrets that the townspeople have. This is a much better adaptation of that sort of story than the disappointing Wytches. The title hints that countless more ghostly haints will be discovered, and how Emmy reacts and utilizes them will certainly be intriguing.
Illustrated by Tyler Crook, he creates an atmospheric southern locale with believable and varied townspeople. His dark woods scenes are my favorite, with his spooky corners that could harbor sinister haints. He opened each new chapter with a two page spread that somehow incorporated the words Harrow County into the background, and I enjoyed looking for how he would do it each time. His artwork is reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s work in Through the Woods, and the comparison holds up because both Carroll and Crook draw their characters young looking with an apple cheeked motif. In this case, Emmy was drawn way too young looking. At eighteen years old, she should have been drawn as a young woman and not so child-like, but other than that complaint, the artwork is a perfect match for the story.
As this was the first of an eight book series, I aim to visit Harrow County more in the future and see what awaits Emmy!
Cullen Bunn has created a new dark and dangerous graphic novel series, and this necromantic horror story grabbed me on the first page and never let go.
A quick synopsis: “A new drug is sweeping through the streets of New Orleans—one made from the ashes of the dead. Wars are being fought over who will control the supply, while the demand only rises.”
The Winters family of New Orleans has discovered how to manufacture the ashes of the dead into a powerful hallucinogenic drug that lets the person snorting the drug to experience everything the dead person lived through when they were alive. In charge of this operation are Grace and Andre, with their four adult children. The oldest, Brae, is chomping at the bit ready to take over the enterprise and questioning his mother. Brigitte is the scientist who is the only one who knows how to turn the dead into ash properly and won’t reveal to others how to do so as to keep her position in the family safe. Leon and Wade end up doing much of the grunt work for the family, with both of them questioning the morality of it all.
As the popularity of the drug grows in the Big Easy, other drug cartels realize the scope of the operation and want in on the action. Several contact Grace with offers of buy-outs but she refuses. Not surprisingly they don’t take it well, and put a target on the family’s back. Some dirty cops are also involved, with Brae trying to control that aspect, but double crosses are part of the game.
There are a few twists and turns in the narrative, with a surprising revelation that will make you back track to look for clues. The story has potential for a thought provoking moral debate about drug culture and the sanctity of life and for the body after death. My excitement for this new series rivals what I felt for Briggs Land, another layered crime saga with an intriguing family led by a strong woman.
The art by Jonas Scharf was perfect for the story, and was reminiscent for me of Gabriel Rodriguez who illustrates the Locke and Key series, which is high praise indeed from me. He establishes the Winters family in a distinct manner, showing a welcome diversity within the family, in addition to when he draws other characters and realistic crowd scenes. The colorist Alex Guimarães really sets the tone with the coloring with an earthen palette for the everyday life, and vibrant pinks and purples to signify the hallucinogenic effect.
As much as I loved the story, I have a few criticisms. The big one: how is the drug controlled by the user? How do they tap into the specific memory of the deceased, as they would have a lifetime of memories to choose from? How do memories from the past physically manifest in those who are taking the drug? Will this be explained, or do we just have to have suspension of disbelief and go with the flow? Also, while I love that Grace is portrayed as a powerful and still sexy matriarch of the family, she looks too young to be a mother to her children, especially Brae. I, myself, am a mother to three teens and I still want to be thought of as a hottie, but Grace should be realistically aged just a tiny bit more.
I believe this new series has a lot of potential for growth and I absolutely will be reading future volumes, as I wish to find out what consequences are in store for the Winters family and those who choose to take the drug. Thank you to NetGalley for approving me to read this novel early, as I believe this series could really take off after it’s release in March.
A few weeks ago Nancy did a T5W post about fandoms she no longer considered herself a part of. On the list was Old Man Logan. While still a lover of the original run, Nancy spoke of being upset at his character returning as part of Marvel’s 2015 Secret Wars/Battleworld event. As I considered the topic for my guest post here on Graphic Novelty² this week I realized the answer to both my topic choice and any still-lingering Battleworld woes was the same – DEADPOOL. You see, while the rest of the Marvel Universe was converging on Doom’s Battleworld to fight for the fate of the multiverse, author Cullen Bunn and artist Matteo Lolli brilliantly dropped ol’ Wade Wilson back in the original Secret Wars series that ran from 1984-1985. The resulting tale was a lot of fun and a perfect picture of why Deadpool’s become the omnipresent pop culture force he is.
First, full disclosure, I love Cullen Bunn. I think he’s one of the best Deadpool writers Marvel has. His stories ooze pop culture references, meta/self-aware humor, inappropriateness, and he balances that with real emotional depth and a surprising (yet totally welcome!) social awareness. He drops all of it in the wild blender of Deadpool and it results in some of the most consistently solid, entertaining, and engaging Deadpool stories around. With a character like Deadpool who is EVERYWHERE, it’s nice to find authors whose take on the character you trust and always enjoy. For me, that’s Cullen Bunn. From Night Of The Living Deadpool to Return Of The Living Deadpool to Deadpool Kills The Marvel Universe to Deadpool Killustrated toDeadpool Kills Deadpoolto Deadpool and the Mercs for Money, I’ve yet to be disappointed with his work…and, as you can see, I read a lot of it :). Deadpool’s Secret Secret Wars is another fantastic example of why I love Bunn’s vision of Deadpool so much!
The opening title card page, the now-common insert in all comics that’s meant to describe the Secret Wars event, is scribbled over in read with “Wrong Secret Wars!!!” written on the side. It then says, “Back in 1984, all the big heroes were taken to space for a SECRET WAR – and here’s what REALLY happened!” Following a running gag started in Gerry Duggan and Brian Posen’s run on Deadpool (at least I think it started there…I can’t remember reading it before them), Cullen Bunn has taken us back to see some of what Deadpool did before his first appearance in 1991’s New Mutants #98. It turns out, Deadpool was always around! Duggan and Posen have shown us Deadpool in the 70’s and 80’s when he hangs with Luke Cage and Iron Fist, helps Tony Stark get sober, and vacations in Wakanda. Bunn takes this idea to a new height by revealing Wade’s roll in one of the most iconic Marvel miniseries of all time.
As soon as Deadpool appears on the scene, the brilliance begins. Deadpool’s banter, in Bunn’s hands, reads like a rapid-fire run of jokes and asides. It really feels like he just won’t quit talking. For Deadpool, that’s important. Wade Wilson does pause, in moments of reflection or pain. But when Wade’s ready and rolling he never shuts up. That’s part of what makes Deadpool, Deadpool! He’s something of a self-indulgent attention whore – but in the best possible way! I absolutely love that about him (annnnd if I’m being honest it’s something I see of myself in him too (I can also be one for casual swearing, inappropriate sexual humor, pop culture references, and while I can’t use it I do have a katana hanging on my wall (hmm, this may not speak well of my state of mind…))). Of all the writers I’ve read, Bunn’s Deadpool just feels the most…uh, well Deadpooly to me.
As the story begins, in a hilarious twist, none of the heroes know who Deadpool is. This gives us Deadpool at his best, just to the outside of what’s going on. In this position he’s the perfect character to lampoon anything (such as another Secret Wars…) while simultaneously being the character who speaks in a very real way to what it feels like to be an outsider looking in. Right out of the gate Deadpool begins trying to establish his good guy credentials. This is another hallmark of his character, underneath his innuendo and inappropriateness he is someone who desperately wants to belong and to be like his heroes. Yes, Deadpool has an unstoppable healing factor that makes him essentially immortal. Yes, he’s great with his katanas and his guns. And sure, he’s gone toe-to-toe with everyone from Taskmaster to Thanos. But Deadpool still looks up to all the Marvel heroes. He wants to be like them and to be liked by them. There’s a universality there, something that allows us all to see a little bit of ourselves in Deadpool.
The whole graphic novel is filled with wonderful 80’s references too. You have some obligatory Cold War humor. There’s talk of the standard banter that comes with the macho male action movies of the decade. And of course he touches on the difficulties in acquiring Cabbage Patch Kids too. The series’ BIG meta moment comes with the nod to the Secret War toy line! When Marvel released Secret Wars in the 80’s Mattel released a corresponding Marvel Secret Wars toy line (*cough* of course *cough*). Well, each superhero came with a “Secret Shield” accessory that had a “lenticular disc” you could put inside the shield that flashed between images as you angled it differently. It showed scenes from the hero’s life as well as an image of their secret identity. Well, as Deadpool scuffles with Spidey in the comic, Spider-Man knocks Deadpool into a wall filled with all those shields. Of course Deadpool finds his own making for a wonderful meta-toy goof.
The 80’s connections don’t stop there though. During the battle Deadpool finds himself physically healed. Under his costume his body no longer bears the scars he always carries. He becomes the picture of a macho 1980’s heartthrob – mustache, sideburns, shaggy mullet hair, and rippling muscles. (Tom Sellek eat your heart out!) In his new “supermodel” body, Deadpool also experiments with a costume makeover. He finds the machine ultimately responsible for giving Spider-Man the black, alien symbiote costume he wore in the 80’s (that eventually becomes Venom) and Deadpool wears the alien first…and kinda messes up the symbiote’s mind in the process :). Whelp, that’ll be awkward for Spidey…but it’s classic Deadpool.
As the story moves to its conclusion Bunn ventures into the sort of deeply emotional territory he does so well with Wade Wilson as he explains why Deadpool isn’t part of the “official” record of the Secret Wars. I won’t go into any details here (and, in fact, I’ve tried to be as vague as I can with the details so far) because I don’t want to ruin anything. This is a hilarious, moving, fun, and wonderfully creative story and my outlining plot specifics totally spoils it for you. Trust me, it’s better if you experience it for yourself. I will add that, in addition to a moving ending, Bunn also lets the reader sit with Deadpool’s outsider status. With deep authenticity, we feel what it’s like for Deadpool on the margins. For a character who makes as many jokes as quickly as Deadpool always does (I literally laughed out loud multiple times when I read this volume) there is a sadness at his core. No matter what he does, Deadpool can’t seem to find a way to be included among the other superheroes. Part of what makes Cullen Bunn such a master at writing Deadpool is he delivers both sides of Deadpool fluidly and flawlessly. We see Deadpool the goofball hero (as he presents himself to the world) but we also see the Deadpool who is hurting (as he often is inside).
For all his attempts at heroics, Wade Wilson is so often rejected by those he deeply admires for all manner of reasons – his violent methods, his appearance, his odor, his endless stream of banter many of the other heroes find so annoying. Essentially, Deadpool just wants to be like the heroes he looks up to but he can never find his place among them. We, as readers, can completely understand where he’s coming from. On the one hand, we all look to our superheroes to inspire us. While we read comics for fun and entertainment, I think we all have that little kid inside us that gets a rush seeing these heroes do things we all want to believe we can do too. Superheroes speak to our potential. On the other hand, we’ve all had experiences of wanting to belong when we feel like we don’t (or can’t) fit in. Deadpool speaks to every time we’ve ever felt excluded, left alone and lost on the margins. He shares our feelings of inadequacy, of wanting to belong and being rejected, of never fitting in how we wish we could. This makes Deadpool an incredibly important character.
Yes, Wade Wilson began his career in the Marvel Universe as a villain and rode the huge tide of antihero popularity in the 90’s that moved characters like the Punisher and Venom into the spotlight too. But over the last twenty years as his character’s developed and he’s moved from dark antihero to aspiring superhero, his popularity has exploded. In part that’s because of how hilarious, wildly inappropriate, and meta his books can be. But it’s also because he speaks to a universal human experience. We all want to belong. As human beings we are literally, evolutionarily, biologically made for community. By nature we all seek acceptance, love, and inclusion. Wade often struggles to find that among his superhero role models but he never lets that stop him. Reading Deadpool comics we feel the pain of exclusion with him…but he still keeps us laughing through it all. As we laugh with Deadpool we learn about perseverance too. No matter how many times he’s written off, Deadpool never stops trying to be who he dreams he can be. We all need his model, encouragement, optimism and drive to keep making ourselves better and brighter so we can make the world better and brighter too. Deadpool, for all his wild antics and innuendo-laced humor, shows us how to do just that. He’s hilarious and inappropriate while simultaneously being the poster child for never giving up.
Deadpool speaks to something deep within all of us, something insecure and fragile that wants to be transformed as we reach for our highest potential. Deadpool makes us laugh out loud while also speaking to our hearts. He reminds us of how important it is to be aware of those on the margins and, when we feel as though we’re isolated on the margins ourselves, he reminds us we’ll survive as long as we keep laughing and moving forward. I want to thank Nancy and Kathleen for letting me take over Graphic Novelty² today! Their site was one of the very first I found as I took my tentative baby steps into the world of blogging last year and I’ve come to admire their work second only to how much I value their friendship. So it’s very exciting for me to get to share the spotlight with these lovely ladies! I wanted to make this post count, to share an important message. Who would’ve ever thought that message would be – Be like Deadpool?!? But I think we’d all be better off if we followed Deadpool’s lead from time to time.
(We would like to thank Michael for contributing this epic post to our blog! When Nancy knew she’d be on vacation and we still wanted to keep up our usual posting schedule, we knew if we asked him to write a review he would gladly do so, and he did not disappoint! Not only that but he gave us the longest word count ever post to our blog! If you are not already familiar with Michael’s work- please check out his blog My Comic Relief. He shares amazing reviews on comics and movies, plus he writes a heartfelt series New American Resistance about challenges our nation is facing. If that’s not enough, he and his beloved Kalie write genre mash-ups together on both of their blogs. Prepare to laugh, think, and then laugh again when you read his blog!)