Michael Moreci and Tim Daniels revealed a knack for writing creepy, modern horror stories in the series Curse last year. The fusion of the grotesque and terrifying with relatable human drama is what marked that series as one of the stand out horror comics of 2014. The writers return to a very familiar mood in Burning Fields #1 with Colin Lorimer providing artwork.
The story is set in post-invasion Kirkuk, Iraq. It is a city with a significant American presence primarily due to the oil fields that surround it. This means that it is not only occupied by the American military, but corporations and the paramilitaristic independent contractors they hire to provide protection. A series of grisly murders have been committed in and around the oil fields and a group of local and international investigators are called to discover the cause.
The first two come in the form of Dana and Nelson, two Americans who served in the Iraq War, but are now discharged as civilians. Nelson is presented as a cool, collected officer trying to do what he believes is best. He appears milquetoast when set side-by-side with Dana. She reads almost like a caricature of the haunted veteran. Everything she has to say comes with an edge of venom and she almost causes a shootout due to an overreaction later in the comic. The presentation of Dana is so focused on her anger and capability that she never becomes an understandable character in this issue.
Detective Fasad, Dana’s Iraqi counterpart, is a different story altogether. Moreci and Daniels provide several sequences in which they detail who Fasad is, revealing a character unlike anyone else in comics today. The most fascinating aspects of Fasad come from the conflicts between his different roles in life. As both a police and father, he is stretched between his focus on protecting his own family and his entire community. The additional stress of working in post-invasion Kirkuk, a city with increasingly high tensions only adds to the strain on both his personal and professional life. His point of view is presented as being equally significant, if not more so, than those of the American investigators. It is a genuine attempt to understand the imposition of American interests on the people of Iraq. It is in this attempt that Burning Fields #1 is at its best.
Fasad’s role in the story is certainly most engaging, but the real hook of the issue comes on the final page. This is a horror story and Lorimer makes that exceedingly clear with some incredibly gruesome body horror. It’s the sort of image that will simultaneously fascinate and disgust you, daring you to look away while knowing you can’t. Not only does the final panel clearly establish the tone of Burning Fields, but it sets the stakes very high and provides an unseen threat that can frighten even these very capable veterans.
Lorimer creates a consistent tone throughout Burning Fields #1, making the final page seem like a natural progression of the story. Thick lines cut into the faces of men and women, turning wrinkles into the result of overwhelming pressure. The results of war and death are worn in the posture and expressions of each person building a grim mood. Many panels are positioned facing upward causing the world to loom over the reader. Shadows are big and in the end it appears that there is something massive looming just outside the page.
Moreci, Daniels, and Lorimer have managed to combine elements of horror and good detective fiction into a debut issue that takes place in a slightly more twisted version of the world in which we live. Burning Fields #1 takes the tone of True Detective and maps it onto the true horrors of the American occupation of Iraq. Fasad and Dana’s discovery of what is happening should make for a fascinating journey, but not one for the faint of heart.