Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Harrow County, Volume 1: Countless Haints Review (Cullen Bunn, Tyler Crook)

The people of Harrow County burned the witch, Hester Beck, on the hanging tree. Before she died, she told them she’d come back. 

Years later… 

Emmy has turned 18 and isn’t sure what she’s going to do with her life. But strange things are happening around her pa’s farm with cattle mysteriously dying. That is, except for the one Emmy laid hands on. To her father’s horror, he realises the witch has returned in the form of his daughter! 

Writer Cullen Bunn re-teams with his Sixth Gun fill-in artist Tyler Crook for a new horror series at Dark Horse, Harrow County, annnnnnd… it’s just ok. I’m actually a little surprised at the overwhelmingly positive response this series has had from various writers and critics considering the comic is actually a really average southern gothic story. 

The first volume introduces us to the witch’s curse and Emmy’s realisation of who she really is, none of which feels, or is, especially original. The story plays out somewhat predictably and slowly without a real standout character or especially brilliant angle. Fiery ghosts, a Minotaur, witches – yeah, yeah, seen it before… 

Which isn’t to say it’s all generic; there’s a character called Tattered Skin who is a new kind of character with his haunted skin and prowling, separate body. Also the idea of Hester creating followers out of mud, dying and the followers continuing on, living rich, full lives is a pretty interesting detail and quite shocking too. 

I really liked Tyler Crook’s title pages where “Harrow County” is woven into the backgrounds – very pretty! - and I like his art in general but it doesn’t feel like a great fit for horror. His lines are a little too soft, the characters somewhat cartoonish and the colours a bit too bright – for horror I’d expect harder lines and darker tones to give it a more menacing atmosphere. Half the time with Emmy on the farm it looks like a new illustrated version of Charlotte’s Web, and once we get into the horror aspects, it looks great but never creepy or disturbing. I’m not sure Crook was the best choice as artist for this kind of story. 

Also included (if you read the single issues like me) are the one page backups which recount the cursed history of Harrow County. It’s a pleasant surprise to see Manifest Destiny colourist Owen Gieni drawing these and producing brilliant work too with very detailed panels and some eye-catching visuals. 

To be fair to Bunn he did take the story in an unexpected direction towards the end – and I’m not even counting the final page – but even so I read Harrow County not especially enthralled by its mediocre story but not disliking it either. If you’re in the mood for a southern gothic horror comic, it’ll pass muster – you might even love it like the majority of readers seem to! – but I found Harrow County to be very ordinary.

Harrow County, Volume 1: Countless Haints

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