"Harrow County #1" Comic Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Tyler Crook
2015, 32 Pages, $3.99
Comic released on May 13th, 2015
Every town has secrets, some more so than others. Harrow County has one, and it's a doozy. Some time back the townsfolk got together and killed Hester Beck. Now, before you jump to conclusions, you should know that Hester was a witch. While she could heal the sick, she was also practicing dark magic, feeding off of the livestock, laying with strange beasts, and stealing infants to feed her new friends. Sooner or later, that just wasn't going to stand. The thing about witches is that they tend to hold a grudge, even into the afterlife. Now it looks like she's about to come back for her revenge.
The opening pages of Harrow County may at first seem like your basic witch trial, but they're so much more. There's a feeling of dread that flows through each panel. While these people think they're doing the right thing – and they are – you can't shake the feeling that they're only making things worse. Maybe not today and maybe not tomorrow, but sooner or later, Hester will get her pound of flesh.
Much of this foreboding comes from Tyler Crook's amazing artwork. The townsfolk are angry yet terrified as they stare up at Hester swinging on a tree branch. What seals the deal is the final panel on the first page. It's a closeup of Hester's face. Her eyes are little more than slits as the noose tightens around her neck, but you see the faintest glimmer of a cruel smile cross her lips. That right there is what sends a shiver down your spine. You can only imagine the horrors she's cooking up in that head of hers.
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Harrow County's pacing bounces back and forth between these terrifying moments and scenes of total normalcy. Writer Cullen Bunn starts the issue with a bang before introducing us to Emmy, a girl going on 18 who has been troubled by horrific nightmares as of late, including the tree that Hester swung from. We get a glimpse of what some of these dreams look like and this is where the story jumps back to scare central. The depiction of this tree would make the one in Evil Dead run and hide. It has teeth. Think about that for a second. It's a gnarly, old tree with a big decaying hole in its center that's surrounded by jagged teeth. Excuse me for a moment as I go chop down every tree in my yard.
That feeling of dread is omnipresent throughout the entire issue. It shrouds Emmy from the moment she's introduced and follows her around the farm like a dark cloud. Unfortunately, we're the only ones that see it. This poor girl is going about her daily routine, blind to the fact that her entire world is about to drastically change.
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This leads to the culmination of the issue and what is easily one of the scariest scenes in comics this year. I'm not going to spoil it here because it's seriously within the last two or three pages and you need to read it for yourself. I will say that it's completely unique and unexpected. You may think you know what's lurking out in those woods, but the truth is a thousand times more frightening. This kind of terror is tough to do in comics, but Bunn and Crook deliver it in spades.
This issue also includes a one-page backup story written by Bunn and illustrated by Owen Gieni. I'm not sure if it's just the first part of a multi-paged tale. It's pretty creepy on its own and definitely serves to further the creepy factor of the book. It does so with a subtle twist that fills you with questions. It's a damn good hook.
Harrow County is friggin' scary. It's a story that seeps into your very being, bringing the type of fear and tension that movies need jump scares and pumping soundtracks to come close to pulling off. Here's the kicker though: It's only the first issue. Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook are just getting started and they've already made one of the best horror comics of the year.