September is upon us, and with it the first signs of fall. The days are losing their heat and growing shorter. Before we know it, it will be October and Halloween. That creeping darkness of autumn has inspired imaginations and stories to touch upon our deepest fears for a very long time. This week we’re taking a look at three comics that feature supernatural terrors creeping into a world that seemed much more sane not to long ago, ranging from the dark city of Gotham to a small American farm community to one of the most famous horror settings of all time.
Gotham Academy #10
Written by Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher
Art by Karl Kerschl with Msassyk
Colors by Serge Lapointe and Msassyk
Gotham Academy returns with a one-shot story focusing on the school’s drama department and a couple of characters best known for their appearances on Batman: The Animated Series. This school production of Macbeth goes as well the Scottish play’s reputation would suggest, and provides plenty of opportunities for standalone gags and character work in a very fun issue.
The school production of Macbeth provides an excellent centerpiece that Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher use to draw out ongoing plot lines and plenty of new elements. The former is presented subtly with angst that can only be found in high school years, but the latter is shown as loudly as possible and results in a lot of fun. The elements of Shakespeare used here are popular enough that even novice readers ought to be able to pick up on many references. They are also made to play like stage drama with plenty of bombast and posing. It all fits this issue’s villain and teacher very well, with their confrontation proving to the highlight of this comic.
Karl Kerschl continues to deliver these prep school adventures with a slick style and plenty of accentuated drama. While Gotham Academy #10 may not feature a big action sequence, Kerschl finds plenty of opportunities to make what’s occurring both on and off stage feel big. A performance of the Macbeth Act 4, Scene 1 (“double, double toil and trouble”) fills the page to great effect. It is only slowed by a panel that interrupts the witch’s casting, leading to a confusing reading pattern of speech bubbles. The staging at the end is also very well done, especially with regards to size and space with such a large antagonist, but reaches a comparatively anti-climactic conclusion for all of its build.
Gotham Academy #10 is a single issue story done very well. It is both a part of the larger narrative, but can rest entirely on its own merits. Lots of elements that might have felt stretched over a TPB length arc, like this month’s villain and Shakespearean references, pack a punch in this tighter format. Altogether it’s a great example of how flexible this premise is and the promise it holds for the future, one that could get just about anyone hooked.
Harrow County #5
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art and Colors by Tyler Crook
Harrow County #5 slows down and takes a step back this month, as it Emmy settles into a new status quo where she may still be feared and hated by some, but is not forced to flee for her life. Rather than running, she’s now putting Hester Beck’s abilities to use by helping the people of Harrow County with a variety of problems.
This adjustment doesn’t affect Tyler Crook’s artwork in the slightest. He nimbly adjusts the mood of his watercolors from the tense dark shades of earlier issues to something lighter and more melancholy. There is a more accessible beauty to the pastoral farmland setting, set alongside the obvious horrors locked within it. His skill in depicting monsters, whether they are empty sacks of flesh or enormous bull-like demons, is actually charming here. Shown in peaceful settings, the detail of their forms is more easily examined, and the souls within the creatures are shown to be surprisingly human. The juxtaposition of these two elements: idyllic Midwestern life and monstrous imaginings make for a story that, when presented so well together, is only unsettling when the real ugliness of individuals is allowed to come out.
That ugliness has been at the core of Cullen Bunn’s plotting from the beginning, with people shown to be far more frightening than graveyard ghosts and other beasts. It has never been as clearly revealed as it is here though. One ugly request from a threatened spouse is shocking not for its cruelty, but the banality of its motives and desires. While Harrow County #5 rests between larger stories, Bunn takes the time to include small fables of Emmy’s life showing both the potential for good and evil in her and her community. These stories may not haunt your dreams, but they are certainly good for a few chills down the spine.
Harrow County has been defined by its ability to craft mood, and proves here that it is not a one-trick pony. This issue takes the characters, setting, and themes found in the first four issues, and begins to grow past what made them first work so well together. Even in this more thoughtfully paced session, the comic maintains the eerie, creeping vibes of the very best of campfire stories. Wherever Crook and Bunn may go next, there’s good cause to follow them into the dark.
Sleepy Hollow: Providence #2
Written by Eric Carrasco
Art by Victor Santos
Colors by Jason Wordie
The hit Fox TV series Sleepy Hollow is receiving another comics adventure at Boom! Studios. This time Ichabod, Abbie, and their allies must confront a group of fiends from Welsh mythology and stop them from obtaining an artifact known as The Spike. Unfortunately this mini-series lacks any of its source material’s distinctive qualities or any real merits of its own.
While there is plenty being said by both heroes and villains, none of it rings with life. Instead dialogue is driven by plot or ineffectual attempts at wit. Jokes and references read like fan fiction playing upon what an outsider loves about the show, but failing to capture the dynamics that make it function. The action itself is centered on an uninspiring MacGuffin and Emily, a mysterious Amish girl who always has the right answer to get the page turned. All of the pieces of the script add up to a story that is functional at best.
That story is told in a manner that does not function at all though. There are multiple page turns that transition the same set of characters, but fail to make any connection between what was happening before and what is happening now. Readers are required to make significant logical leaps to solve the simple puzzle of what is even happening on the page. Victor Santos’ linework is often so rushed or abstract that it is difficult to tell where characters are in relation to one another or how their actions connect. The comic is simply difficult to read, and in no way that indicates purpose or reason.
Sleepy Hollow: Providence #2 is an unqualified mess. The story itself lacks any of the charm, wit, or thrills it believes it may possess. Characters are thin facsimiles of those in a different medium, and the plotting feels largely pointless. The issue fails at an even more fundamental level though, as it is difficult to even read and understand. No matter who you are or what affection you may have for Sleepy Hollow, this comic ought to be avoided.
What did you think of this week’s comics? Sound off in the comments below.