This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on July 2, 2016.
Hillbilly #1 (Albatross)
(W/A) Eric Powell
Eric Powell is self-publishing a new series and fans of the creator’s blend of Americana, rural folklore, and black humor will not be disappointed. Hillbilly #1 is a very Powell comic tackling the same set of visual and thematic concerns as the rest of his work. It is a bleak tale of a beset upon boy who grows into a powerful loner of a man (almost exactly like another goonish character). Hillbilly #1 is delivered like an origin story, leaving some holes and plenty of road to travel, but covering all of the significant starting points and key components of the titular man. Despite its dark tone, it is very much like something from the superhero genre, stocked with tragedy and fantastical gifts that come with a price. In this regard, Hillbilly, reads like a backwoods Amazing Fantasy #15.
That is somewhat undercut by Powell’s own familiar obsessions. There is no light at the end of the tales he tells. Hillbilly #1 reinforces a philosophy that the world is a terrible place filled with terrible people who will commit accidental and purposeful injustices on the rare good ones. Old men are made out to be just as evil as the demonic witches in these Southern hills. If this were a debut that perspective might seem more interesting, but it is an uncomplicated point of view that Powell has been working through for more than a decade. At this point in his career, Hillbilly #1 reads like a new Dropkick Murphys album sounds, more of the same with some different words and possibly a bit louder.
That is not to say Hillbilly #1 is without merit. While the story is one Powell continues to repeat, he repeats it with deft visual sensibilities. The use of sepia tones in this comic and blurring of watercolors and inks into a dreamlike (or should I say nightmarish?) state create a perfect tone for the folklore Powell is emulating. His woods quickly layer trees to present a consuming darkness that looms in every panel. The linework here is of particular note. Powell utilizes big, looping lines in the curl of a cleaver blade, the fingers of a witch, and twisting vines of a dark forest, all of which represent evil. These big, loping lines encircle the “hillbilly” and his world, presenting an all-consuming and inescapable vision of darkness.
The only out of place element in Hillbilly #1 is the zaniness of a tomboy character and her over-sized bow. It reads in a humorous fashion without delivering any laughs. Hillbilly #1 never creates the tone of being a funny book, like The Goon, and here that particular element of Powell’s repertoire falls flat. Overall, Hillbilly #1 marks a continuing evolution of a talented cartoonist. Changes to style and media present an intriguing read, but one that is shackled to a story and themes that have grown stale.
– Chase Magnett