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The Witcher (Vol. 1): House of Glass

While traveling through the Black Forest, Witcher Geralt of Rivia is joined by a fisherman named Jakob. He’s been widowed, and explained how he lost his wife to the bruxae, otherwise known as vampires. She haunts the world still, watching Jakob from afar. Geralt and Jakob stumble upon (or are led to?) a mansion hidden deep in the forest. Inside, they find a succubus named Vara, who tells them they are inside the House of Glass: so named for the stained glass windows that shift and move inside the walls. Jakob is sure his Marta is in the house somewhere; he hears her calling, so he goes to find her. Geralt feels something is wrong… but what? Does he need to solve the mystery before the house will let them leave?

My first introduction to the world of the Witcher was through the Netflix show. I’ve been promised the book series as a future present, so thought to start my reading journey with the graphic novels 😉

This one is best described as a supernatural horror. The tension is built up as readers move through the house with Geralt, constantly waiting for some horrible monster to pop out around the corner. The cold, dark color palette only serves to heighten the tension and deepen the sense of mystery.

I was surprised to find that Joe Querio (unknown to me before this title) was the artist for this book. I could have sworn it was Mike Mignola. I was half-right: Mignola drew the covers. Querio’s style is similar to Mignola’s in the blocky shapes of his figures and backgrounds, though not quite to Mignola’s extremes. It’s easy to see why these two artists were chosen to provide the art for this book. Not only are they similar in style, but their styles suit the brutal, savage nature of the world perfectly.

It seems a common theme in the world of the Witcher is the ever-present grey area between good and evil. The art serves this theme here also with heavy shading in character’s faces, leaving the reader to infer character intentions for themselves. The central mystery of the story also serves this theme well, though I can’t say more without spoilers.

If you’re enchanted by The Witcher series on Netflix and are looking for more, but are daunted by the books and games, this is a great introduction to the literary universe.

-Kathleen

Tobin, Paul, and Joe Querio. The Witcher (Vol. 1): House of Glass. 2014.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest Volumes 3-4

Forty years of ElfQuest under Cutter’s leadership comes to a close in these last two volumes. These four volumes fold decades worth of storyline and family connections into a mostly satisfying conclusion to this truly epic fantasy series.  Warning- spoilers ahead.

Volume Three

As with every penultimate story, so many threads are being drawn to a close and you wonder how it will ever be wrapped up adequately. The Wave Dancers (the ocean elves) and Rayek (Cutter’s antagonist) play a large part in this volume as we move towards the coming battle with the humans. We also, unfortunately, have had brand new characters introduced very late in the game, which muddies the waters since there is already an established huge cast already. The elves recently discovered a new band of elves who have been hiding in plain sight, The Rootless Ones, a group of elves who a millennium ago shapeshifted into forms resembling plant life and became scavengers who think as a collective. Plus, a strange non-speaking elf Dre-ahn, who for some reason is larger than usual and only sings, is found. Cutter recovers from his discovery that he and High One Timmain are spirit-bound in a single soul. Cutter, who now knows more than he ever thought because of his connection to Timmain, says a poignant quote on the last page as he wonders “If I can know the larger truth and still live the smaller”.

Volume Four

It all comes to a close here in volume four, as all the tribes have been converging on the Palace as it prepares to leave Two Moons and journey back through space to their homeland. While many elves have already made their choice whether to stay or go, a few key decisions remain. Moonshade and Strong Bow’s struggle was heartbreaking, as Moonshade wished to leave while her traditional lifemate wanted to remain. How it concluded brought me to tears.

The human vs elf battle concluded with some treachery by the human leaders which put the elf’s continued existence in peril as their Holt burned. There were some significant losses of life, yet you are lulled into complacency when the battle is over when the unexpected occurs to Cutter. The first time I read it- I was so very shocked. This is the way we lose Cutter? To me, his hero’s journey ended ignobly. With time, and a re-read I see his death in another light. Was there ever going to be a “right” way to die? Did he need to die in battle to make his life worthy? Now I see that it’s alright that he died a quiet death, surrounded by those who loved him.

Is ElfQuest truly over? No, of course not. A new series based off Skywise, Cutter’s best friend and father to Jink (another offshoot to ElfQuest) has begun. As stated by the publisher, “When ElfQuest: The Final Quest concluded, it ended the hero’s journey of Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders. But that was only the start of a new adventure for Cutter’s ”brother in all but blood,” Skywise. Stargazer’s Hunt has story by ElfQuest co-creators Wendy and Richard Pini, with script by Wendy Pini. Veteran Elfquest alumnus Sonny Strait returns at full force as the artist and colorist for the new series. All-new material for an established character.” I do not plan on continuing with StarGazer’s Hunt as I never was a fan of Skywise who seemed like a selfish and hedonistic jerk. I looked briefly at the first issue and Straight is an excellent artist, but to me (and many others, I’m sure) the series ended with Cutter’s death.

I’m so very glad that Wendy and Richard Pini were given the time to craft a powerful concluding arc to the Wolfriders and other elves of Two Moons. Was I happy with every choice the Pini’s made? Of course not, but are fans ever fully happy when a favorite book, TV series or movie ends? Cutter, Leetah, Nightfall, Tyleet, Scouter, Dewshine, Moonshade, Strongbow, Clearbrook, Treestump, Redlance, Ember, Venka, Rayek, Khavi and so many others became real to me as I followed their adventures for over 25 years. While I’m sorry to have the series end, I have so many of the graphic novels at home that I can immerse myself in the series again and again. Farewell to the World of Two Moons!

-Nancy

And just to be picky- I will comment on some stray thoughts that I had during my read of these last four volumes:

Windkin (Dewshine’s son) was a petulant ass. He seemed to forget his mother and his adopted father Scouter, but then moons for Ahdri, a rock shaper from the Sun Tribe, but as soon as he is reunited with her, he drops her. So then Ahdri ends up with the half-elf/troll Two Edge?

So Khavi wanted a child to remember her lovemate Tyldak of the Gliders, so she asks his son to impregnate her when Tyldak dies (gross) but then when Tier is born she abandons him since he is a son instead of a daughter??? And…why was Khavi such a big deal to the Go-Backs? She was always leaving their tribe and jaunting off for hundreds of years. There was mention of her having other children beside Venka and Tier, why didn’t they become tribe leaders?

Recognizing is a big deal to the elves, as it produces strong children, so why do some couples Recognize several times while some elves like Yun, Ahdri and Shenshen never do? It’s like they were found unworthy and just get to sex it up with love mates but never a lifemate.

It’s cool that Dart and Mender began a relationship, but their romance came out of nowhere. Perhaps unfairly, I felt the Pini’s wanted some representation (and it was established that Dart had been in a lovemate relationship with another male elf years ago), so they quickly choose Mender to pair up with Dart.

So Ember and Tier delay Recognition, when no other elf couples have ever been able to in the past? In the conclusion, it shows a time jump and still no child. Why? Plus, I’d like to add that Tier is an emo mess.

Leetah’s power seemed too strong. No healer could ever do what she could. She could force Recognition between Nightfall and Redlance and then delay it for her daughter Ember? And then she could transform her sister Shenshen into looking like a human (which was problematic) felt like too much.

I love Tyleet! I just had to share that.

To read more about ElfQuest check out: The Final Quest Volumes 1 & 2, the original story that began the entire series and a sweet story about Tyleet and her son Little Patch.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest Volumes 1-2

As I said when I reviewed the first volume of ElfQuest– I fell in love with this series when I was in high school and my boyfriend who was collecting them introduced me to the World of Two Moons. Sometimes our dates would consist of us sitting side by side reading for hours and debating the finer points of elf lore. That my high school boyfriend eventually became my husband makes this series dear to my heart.

In 1978 the first volume, Fire and Flight, introduces us to the Wolfriders, an elfin band that rides wolves and live in the woods, or as they call it, The Holt. I began reading the series in the early 1990s when six volumes had already been released and throughout college and into my mid-20s I eagerly picked up every new volume. The Pini’s had expanded the elven world and soon the woodland elves met desert, water and mountain elves plus they found some original high-born elves that came from another planet and had crashed there eons ago. During this time, my favorite story, Little Patch came out, which I still like to re-read on a regular basis.  But in the mid-90s the authors began to let other authors and illustrators tell some stories, and within a few years, my husband and I eventually lost interest as the art and storytelling felt sub-standard to us. The stories branched off with characters I didn’t care about, and the art suffered from different artists, as Wendy Pini’s exquisite pencils defined ElfQuest for me.

Years later my husband and I were in Chicago to see the Blue Man Group and had a bit of time to kill between dinner and the show so naturally, we found the closest Graham Crackers Comic Book store (love that chain!) and discovered that ElfQuest was still going strong and was back to the Pini’s work. We began reading the series again and in 2015 it was announced that the last arc, The Final Quest, would be four volumes concluding in 2018 which would be the 40 year anniversary of the series. I purchased all four as they came out and did quick read-throughs but failed to review them until now. While it might have taken a quarantine for me to write this post, it has been a lovely blast from my past to re-read these four volumes and share my thoughts.

Volume One

The Wolfrider saga is complex with a multi-generational elf tribe and long-running storylines, so coming back into this story (even after some catch up) proved to be challenging. The Wolfriders have broken into two tribes, led by chief Cutter who has led this band of elves from the beginning of the series, and the other is led by Ember his adult daughter, so that way if one tribe is destroyed by humans the Wolfriders will live on. Cutter is known as Kinseeker, as he has united the many elven tribes and remembers the past as other elves do not, as their memories fade after thousands of years.

A human tyrant Angrif Djun is intent on destroying all elves and unites other tribes in a war against Ember’s tribe. Kidnapped for a time, Ember’s plight is worsened as she is fighting off the effects of Recognition from her lover Tier, a time when two elves unite to create a child. Different elves, absent for a while, are being drawn back home as the mystical Palace of the High Ones sends off an aura of magic that strengthens their powers. Fates of some elves are revealed, as this first of the planned four begins to try to tidy up the many many threads of narratives for this series.

Volume Two

Sunstream, twin to Ember, who has strong physic powers begins to send out a call to all elves, not just Wolfriders, to reunite. Together these tribes need to decide if they wish to join the Palace and live as immortals, or if they wish to remain on the world of Two Moons and heed “The Way”. But this decision causes dissent within the tribes, and within families, as some wish to stay while others wish to go. Angrif Djun continues to build an armada to destroy the elves, but can they outlast him as his human lifespan is but an instant to them? They also balance uniting with peaceful humans and have in fact adopted a few into their tribe (like Little Patch years ago) as they realize not all humans are to be feared. But the ending of this volume ended on a very strange note as it is revealed that Cutter and a High One Timmain are spirit-bound in a single soul. What????

It has been a pleasure to see Wendy’s art again fully colored. When the series began it was done in black and white, but when ElfQuest for a time was under Marvel ownership, the issues were collected into colored volumes and reached a greater audience. Her panels are a delight to look at and often include a lot of background with other elves, so you can pick up on other details in the tribe’s lives even if only one is being featured. With a huge cast of characters that is helpful, so you feel you are getting a look into more of the interconnected tribes.  Colorist Sonny Strait did a lovely job with rich colors and letterer Nate Piekos did an admirable job with all the dialogue.

While these final four books are definitely for already established fans of ElfQuest, this series will hopefully make others want to go back and dive into ElfQuest’s deep history.

-Nancy

Check out the concluding two volumes in Final Quest Volumes 3-4

The Amazing Adventures of the Escapist

“The Escapist- dazzling Master of Elusion, foe of tyranny, and champion of liberation! Operating from a secret headquarters under the boards of the Empire Theater, the Escapist and his crack team of associates roam the globe performing amazing feats of magic and coming to the aid of all those who languish in the chains of oppression.”

Having just finished the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (2001) novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay written by Michael Chabon, I was intrigued enough by the fictional comic book hero to find this metafiction graphic novel about The Escapist.  To continue the charade that Kavalier and Clay were real men this parody recreates the supposed decades-long publishing history of the character, starting in the Golden Age of Comics. This companion book is a homage to the comics of past eras and showcases The Escapist (plus Luna Moth) in many different styles and moves forward chronologically to how comics are typically drawn today.  The collection included a manga type story, a simply drawn gag style strip that would appeal to children, watercolors for Luna, plus all the Golden, Silver, Bronze and modern era types of illustrations and storytelling.

Some of my favorites:

The Passing of the Key– origin story as found in the novel.  Written by Michael Chabon and illustrated by Eric Wright in a perfect Golden Era vibe.

300 Fathoms Down– an elderly Escapist still has it and shows amazing abilities to withstand water pressure. Written by Mike Baron and drawn by Val Mayerik, a favored artist of mine, who illustrated Of Dust & Blood and The Legion of Monsters.

Old Flame– Luna Moth has a battle of the wits with the Devil himself. Written by Kevin McCarthy with a lovely painterly approach by Dan Brereton.

The Lady or the Tiger– gritty what-if story about how the Escapist must forgo love to continue fighting crime. Very emo. Written by David Gold and illustrated evocatively by Gene Colan.

Taking on a life of its own, in another book by Chabon, his essay collection Book-Ends, author Brian K Vaughn (famous for Saga) writes a brief story of fictionally meeting an elderly Sam Clay at a comic convention, and how Clay inspired him to become the “comic book genius”  he is today. Vaughn takes it further by writing the graphic novel series The Escapists.

But to understand ALL of this, you must first read the original novel (that I reviewed on Goodreads):

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

How I struggled with this book! A few years ago this book was highly recommended to me by a co-worker who loved it and thought I’d connect with the two main characters who are creators of a famed comic book series. At 600+ pages, I choose to listen to it on audio but after listening to half of the discs, I set it aside and listened to two other audiobooks before coming back to it and finishing it. By the end, I was in such an apoplectic rage that I could not comprehend why it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The novel spans twenty years from the late 1930s to the mid-1950s and tells the tale of two cousins who are co-creators of a famous comic book character, The Escapist. The story begins in Prague as teen Joe Kavalier, who had trained to be an escape artist, immigrates to America, but not until he helps find and move the famed Golem of Prague (aside- a short story that Chabon wrote earlier about Joe’s childhood, The Hofzinser Club, was dropped into the novel and is now on season five of the LeVar Burton Reads podcast). Once in America, he joins his cousin Sam Clay and within a week both men have teamed together to create the famed Escapist comic. This was part of the novel I enjoyed the most, detailing how the men created the backstory for a very believable Golden Age hero. Success comes quickly for the duo, despite being screwed over for the rights by the fictitious Empire Comics, as it parallels what happened to so many young comic authors and illustrators back in this era. During this time Joe tries to help his younger brother Thomas and his parents immigrate but he is thwarted at every turn, and his anger shines through in the anti-Hilter storylines in the comics. When he falls in love with an artist named Rosa he feels guilty for finding love when his family is trapped in the Czech Republic. Sam gets the short shrift of the story for despite his personal struggles, his story is not developed, and that was a shame for I had began to hate Joe and hoped for more Sam. Tragedy occurs for the cousins, right as Pearl Harbor is bombed, and Joe makes a radical and very selfish decision.

After a brief interlude of Joe’s WWII experiences (which were just odd) a time jump occurs and we find Sam and Rosa married with a son named Thomas. At this point, I disliked every character in the novel, including the pre-teen. Joe’s prior disappearance is forgiven and swept under the rug, and the conclusion was very unsatisfying. The narrative thread of escape was effectively utilized throughout, but in fact, this story would have fared better with 100 fewer pages.

So why did I even stick it out? I did enjoy the behind the scenes look at how the comic industry got its start, the author could have a turn of phrase that I loved, there was a bit of a John Cheever vibe in the last third of the story, and I liked the mythology of The Escapist. In fact, The Escapist has taken on a life of its own and a metafiction comic anthology was created about the “history” of this comic book hero and an essay was written in another of Chabon’s books about Sam Clay. I’m glad I stuck it out, for I indeed liked a few parts myself, but as a whole, it was not for me at all.

-Nancy

Picture header from Tor.com

Rome West

On Thanksgiving, we celebrate the Pilgrim’s feast of 1621 for the year’s harvest and for their partnership with the Native Americans. Although this holiday smacks of colonialism, white supremacy and is historically inaccurate, let’s just imagine if America was “discovered” in 323 AD by the Romans and our timeline was radically changed.

Brian Wood, a favored author of mine (although he is currently mired in some sexual harassment controversy), along with co-author Justin Giampaoli, takes the trope of an alternate timeline and tries to breathe some new life into it. Told in eleven vignettes, the only thread is that all the characters are descended from the Valerius family originally from Rome.

323 AD Manahatta (NYC): Several Roman galley ships are pushed off course when a violent storm strands them in the Hudson River Valley area of modern-day New York. Legionnaire Lucan Valerius, who has a gift for learning languages, takes command when the Captain is washed overboard. When the Lenape tribe greets the bedraggled soldiers there is a small skirmish, but Lucan understands that diplomacy is the key to their survival, and this first contact leads to the first of future alliances with the Native Americans of the region. Each side believes their deal is the better of the two.

847 The City of Val Seneca (Rochester, NY): A 500-year jump is excessive, as we are led to believe that the descendants of a ragtag group of less than 100 Roman soldiers have remained a central force in government, and have retained the language and customs of their ancestors. As the only Roman men were soldiers, the only way they continued their bloodline was through intermarriage with the local tribes. So I find it incredibly unlikely that the Valerius family looks so white, and that Roman traditions are so prized.

990 The Outpost of Roma Dorsetus (Newfoundland): The Vikings discover an outpost in Vinland and the soldiers there put up an epic fight.

1492 Concordia (Caribbean Islands): Columbus lands and finds an advanced civilization speaking Latin already there. Shocked, he shares that the original Roman empire fell years ago, and makes reference to Jesus Christ, which seems to be news to the island leader. This seems off, as the original soldiers from Rome would have heard of Christ back in 323 AD, so this conversation seems disingenuous.

1503 Roma Auster (Norfolk, VA): In the eleven years since Columbus landed and his ships were seized, the Valerius family studied the European technology onboard, and are now weapon makers themselves. Alliances and wars with certain tribes are mentioned.

1545 Lepido (Panama): The Panama Canel is being constructed already? And Rome West is at war with the Aztecs? Alrighty then.

1869 Sioux Colonia (Davenport, Iowa): Now a Valerius heir is taking a leisurely transcontinental train around the nation and she thinks about the history of the nation, that has some parallels with our world. She meets a storyteller- obviously, Mark Twain is in any timeline!

1939 The Port of Barentsland (San Francisco, CA): A mass murderer is on the loose, seeming to target those with Roman bloodlines. The police struggle to solve these hate crimes.

1941 Washoe Colony (Lake Tahoe, CA): Love story with a bit of commentary on the Valerius family branch that the new bride belongs to. A sweet tale, but it didn’t fit with the other stories.

1979 Rome West, Capital City (NYC): James Bond is a Valerius!

1989 Roma Bareas (Portsmouth, NH): A college student faces extreme prejudice as public opinion has turned against the Valerius family and she is being judged for what her family has done centuries before. I actually wished this story was longer, for it had some biting commentary about cancel culture and paying for the sins of the past.

I am a fan of artist Andrea Mutti’s sketchy work, who has collaborated with Wood before. The grittiness of wilderness living and the gore of war are shown in a realistic manner, with earthen tone coloring that is evocative and helps convey the story even more effectively. All the pages are divided into quadrants with some smaller panels within, there is no elaborate splash pages or large panels, but these workmanlike configurations match the tone of the story.

Overall, this story disappoints. The two authors take what Wood has done well in the past- detailing the rise and fall of a family over the years (Northlanders- Icelandic Trilogy), vignettes with characters studies (Rebels), and mixes it with social commentary (Briggs Land) but it doesn’t quite gel in this story. There are too many leaps of logic with too much time between earlier stories, and then there are too many clustered at the end. This graphic novel should have had more entries, and perhaps then it would have fleshed out into a more cohesive narrative, and become what the authors were aiming for but missed.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! May your choices today make your family proud in the future.

-Nancy

Wood, Brian, Justin Giampaoli, Andrea Mutti. Rome West. 2018.

Snow, Glass, Apples

For Halloween this year, my spooky choice is a twisted fairy tale from the esteemed Neil Gaiman whose dark and whimsical tales are sure to please.

He once again tackles the Snow White story, but in a different angle from his The Sleeper and the Spindle tale, as this story is told from Snow White’s stepmother’s perspective and she is far from a wicked witch. Instead, the twist is that young Snow White is the evil one, and is a vampire who manipulates others. Plus, there is quite the erotica element to this tale, so it is for mature audiences only.

The story begins with Snow White’s father, the virile and handsome king, discovering a teenaged beauty and taking her as a lover and eventually as his second wife. She is only a decade older than her stepdaughter, a pretty but secretive girl, who stays away from her. One night the girl comes into her chambers and the new queen beckons her closer, anxious to get to know her. But Snow White bites her and runs off leaving the queen distraught and scared.

Soon the king begins to weaken and before he dies the queen sees that his body is covered head to toe with scars that had never been there before. We are to believe his daughter sucked the life right out of him, leaving the queen in command of the kingdom.

The queen makes the radical decision to banish the girl and instructs a hunter to kill her and remove her heart. But as Snow White is of demonic blood, she remains alive in the deep forest and grows into a beautiful young woman, despite her pulsing heart being strung up in the queen’s chambers. Snow White preys on the forest folk and a few appeal to the queen for help, who has some mild magical powers herself. The queen is able to fool Snow White into eating a poisoned apple and her body is covered by a crystal cairn by the dwarves she had been terrorizing.

The kingdom settles down peacefully for a few years until a creepy-ass prince, who harbors some dark desires, comes to visit. And this is where it gets good! How the prince “saves” Snow White is deliciously twisted and perverse. Some of the earlier erotica between the king and queen is tame, compared to what comes next.

While Gaiman’s tale is excellent, it is the art by Colleen Doran that makes this book stand out. She draws in an Art Nouveau style and takes inspiration from famed artists Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley. Her art is reminiscent of stained glass windows with deep jewel blues and purples. She incorporates mandalas and nature into the backgrounds, so the illustrations are a feast for the eyes. That the book has a storybook look, just adds to the fairytale motif. An artist’s note at the end tells of her research and the artistic process of inking these exquisite pictures.

A delightfully creepy twist on the Snow White fairytale, that paired with the beautiful art makes this graphic novel a must-read!

-Nancy

Sword Daughter

Sword Daughter is yet another Viking era tale told by Brian Wood of Northlanders fame, this time told by a young girl living in the Scandinavian region who survives a massacre on her village when she is a toddler.

The story picks up ten years later in 991 AD, and we discover that Elsbeth has improbably taken care of her father, who was catatonic with grief, and was the only other survivor besides her. First off- what? Although there is mention of Elsbeth trading with nearby seaside villagers, how did a toddler survive the harsh winters and stay clothed and fed during that decade before her father awakens from his fugue state? It defies logic. Getting past this was impossible, and colored my feelings towards the rest of the story.

Once Dag awakens he vows revenge against the Forty Swords, the group who attacked his village and killed most of his family. This group is made up of a bunch of young radicals who have no fixed ideology, they slaughter simply for the pleasure of it. And off Dag and Elsbeth go in the name of vengeance. And that’s the rest of the story – this father and daughter journeying together to find the Forty Swords and challenge them. Dag tries to connect with his mostly non-verbal daughter due to guilt, with a bit of a Lone Wolf and Cub vibe, but I wasn’t feeling it. Stuff happens and then there is a flash forward with a mystery of what happened in the years between Dag awakening and Elsbeth becoming a young woman that leaves some story line threads for the future.

The art by Mack Chater is sketchy with an earth toned color palette, and it is very reminiscent of his earlier Briggs Land collaboration with Wood.  The only additional color is red, when there is blood spilled, plus the evocative red drenched panels during the attack on the village. There are some interesting choices in his panel placement, with a good flow to the narrative; however, some of the art lacks definition with the landscapes simply drawn.

Considering how much I typically love Wood’s work, this story is a real disappointment. While his Viking saga Northlanders is a real treat and his other Viking story Black Road said something fresh about faith and conversion, this story was lacking. What I really want Wood to do is to revisit Briggs Land with Chater and to also continue Rebels, his American Revolution series. So while this particular story didn’t work for me, I still look forward to future work by Wood and Chater.

-Nancy

Harrow County: Volumes Seven & Eight

Harrow County’s southern gothic thriller has drawn to a close.  I reviewed all eight volumes within six weeks time as this supernatural series hooked me in and I devoured it. The narrative stayed strong the entire series with no let down in the middle and the conclusion was everything I wanted it to be.

Volume Seven: Dark Times A’Coming

Kammi is back…as if there was any doubt she wouldn’t be! In this penultimate volume, forces are gathering to destroy Emmy and all of Harrow County. Emmy endures two significant losses but has no time to mourn as Kammi is relentless.  Bernice fights right alongside her and the two woman do their best to keep Emmy’s “sister” at bay. We find out why Emmy and Kammi are so important to the witch coven, and who they represent. Just as you think Emmy has scored a hard-won victory at the end, she makes a soul crushing decision and we know her biggest battle is still ahead of her.

As we head into the last volume, I wanted to give a final shout-out to Tyler Crook’s art. His  haint creatures were creative and varied, and I thought of his work and H.P. Lovecraft’s as being similarly inspired. His work came to define Harrow County for me with it’s townspeople, rural landscapes and sinister woods. The only complaint I had is of his giving Emmy and others too much of a red cheeked look- it looked as if they had bad head colds for no discernible reason, although I soon stopped noticing it. The two page spread opening this book was creepy awesomeness, and I will never look at a close up of someone’s teeth without flashing back to this series.

Volume Eight: Done Come Back

Emmy’s decision at the end of the last volume, which she thought would make her stronger, did the opposite. She has corrupted herself and betrayed her goodness by letting evil in willingly. She and the original witch Hester battle for dominance as the lives of everyone in Harrow County hang in the balance. The mythology runs deep in the story with the minotaur haint, The Abandoned, playing a significant role. The ending seemed appropriate to the feel of the series, and it concluded on just the right note. The story was fully told and brought to a fine end, but a whisper of  the narrative could be picked up for further stories if author Cullen Bunn and Crook ever wanted to revisit the series.

The afterword by Bunn and Crook was a bittersweet way to wrap up the series and it truly signified the end, as no storybook of Crook’s art bookend this volume. Bunn told an excellent story and brought it to a close in a satisfying way. A big plus in this series was that Bunn created a lovely friendship between Emmy and Bernice. It is a sad reality that friendships between two females in books often are non–existent, or their interactions revolve around a boy. But in this series the two friends have an authentic and deep friendship and there is nary a romance to be found. I loved that! Thus, this story is so much more than an atmospheric supernatural tale- it touches on friendship, destiny, good vs evil and the choices we make and how they define us.

I am so glad I visited Harrow County. This was a wonderful series that didn’t drag or go on for too long. Bunn and Crook told a strong story from beginning to end, with an epic arc that should satisfy all readers. Go ahead and visit Harrow County yourself- you will be glad you did!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume OneVolumes Two-Four, Volumes Five-Six

Harrow County: Volumes Five & Six

I’m all in for the Harrow County series, so you have the pleasure of several Harrow County reviews from me in a row. With middle volumes five and six, this story is ramping up the action towards the (hopefully) thrilling conclusion!

Volume Five: Abandoned

Volume four’s back story is continued in volume five with an explanation of who the giant minotaur creature, The Abondoned, is. Some outside hunters come to town to kill this haint, and Emmy does her best to intervene to prevent an epic bloodbath. As I suspected earlier, Emmy’s “twin” Kammi is not completely gone, and her meddling puts everyone in danger.

One of the guest artists and the colorist from volume three is used again for this volume, in the first two chapters. Again, I wish Crook had consistently stayed as the artist for the entire series, but McNeil’s artwork grew on me and was evocative enough to not break the narrative flow. But I was glad to see that even when guest artists are used Crook still draws the covers and the other artists are consistent with the opening two page spreads to each chapter. I continue to adore how Crook incorporates the words Harrow County into each of those pictures.

Volume Six: Hedge Magic

Hedge magic is a term that can mean someone who can use a weaker more informally taught nature type of magic. This comes into play as Bernice who has been taught snake handling magic by Lovey, confronts Emmy. But both Bernice and Emmy have been played the fool by Odessa, one of the witches that seemingly is good but isn’t. When the witch family learn that their plot to turn the friends against each other failed, they turn to an even more sinister way of defeating Emmy…

I have failed to mention that at the end of all the volumes Crook adds a sketchbook of some of his work, showing how the volume develops from storyboards to final inks. This is a fascinating behind the scenes look at how graphic novels develop. Sometimes he shows failed cover art ideas, other times he shows how he develops his characters. Also showcased has been some deviant art by other artists and some little joke drawings.  I look forward to these sketchbooks in each volume to see how Crook and Bunn developed their narrative.

Next week, I will conclude the series with volumes seven and eight!

-Nancy

Check out my other Harrow County reviews: Volume One, Volumes Two-Four, Volumes Seven-Eight

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