Harrow County #21 continues the story of Emmy, a girl who has a relationship with haints (or ghouls, goblins, the things that go bump in the night). At this point in the story, she serves as a sort of protector of the creatures. Their existence is constantly under threat from the human community. A small minority of the haint community has tainted them with a terrible reputation. This reputation has led someone from the human community to kill the haints. They’ve set out traps for them in the shadows. Emmy learns of this after one of the smaller haints comes out to her from the shadows, trembling with fear. With the threat of a hunter indiscriminately killing haints, Emmy must traverse the night to protect a community that has sought her out for help in an attempt to find out the identity of this hunter.
The comic in continuation will no doubt satisfy long-time readers as they also continue their journey with Emmy, as she walks between two worlds to find a balance. There is animosity between the two respective worlds, where the humans fear the haints and would hunt them because of the atrocious acts of a few, the haints resent the human community because of their past sins against them. As a new reader to the title, I found myself immediately understanding that Emmy served as someone with a special insight to the situation of the monsters.
The opening panels suggested that something was about to jump out at her. A jump scare and a scene of horror would probably ensue. Yet it was completely the opposite- a creature that would normally be the antagonist in such a setting, is shivering in fear, hiding from the only light source of the farm house. As a new reader to the title, I found the twist intriguing, and wanted to read further into what made this girl, Emmy, such a strange sort that would be comforting a calf in one panel for fear of what lurked in the dark, and in the next panel trying to do the same for a monster who also feared what was lurking in the dark.
Tyler Crook does an amazing job of setting a scene of suspense and shock. Just looking at the cover, I was expecting a horror title, which sort of prompted me to believe that a jump scare would happen in the opening scene. The story serves more as a fairy tale adventure, while still offering up the suspense and shock value except for what I would normally consider as the antagonist of a traditional horror story. What Crook does with the contrast of light and shadow gives the reader that sense of old school horror flick, what waits in the darkness, kind of vibe. It looks like there is a style of blended watercolor happening in most of the panels. We see swirls of dark or streaks of another color contrasted to the majority color of the palette mixed in. In one panel, we see Emmy’s hair with slight blotches where the water touch picked up some of the other color, so the shadow is a bit inconsistent.
Crook’s style resembles the color scheme of Van Gogh in “Starry Night” while differing in his drawing of humans versus his drawing of monsters. The character of Emmy isn’t too detailed, and at some instances is a bit cartoonish. Yet in his detail of the monsters, I feel that this is where he shines the most. When it came to the gore, I think that the detail shows the reality of the dire situation that the monsters were facing. There is more blood, he highlights a severed appendage, and provides intricate details at a haint’s murder scene.
Cullen Bunn sculpts the setting and dialogue perfectly to add to the tension of the moment. “If humans are afraid of the dark, then shouldn’t haints be afraid, too, of what the light draws out?” Bunn’s script does everything to set up Crook’s visuals. It shows when we are left alone in the dark, afraid of what might happen or jump out at Emmy, or the creature, in the panel. Bunn’s narrative is continuation of another story at some instances, and as a new reader I found myself a bit lost at that point (but I guess that means I’ll have to pick up previous titles to discover the backstory). Yet, it was easy for me to understand what was going on for the most part, and having those twists in the plot or in my expectations pushed me to read on.
For much of the story we are left with the tension, and feel the fear of isolation and the expectation of what might come out at the character. Yet for much of it, a lot of what actually happens is off-panel. People like being scared; it energizes them to flight or fight, raises the heart rate and gives them a sense of euphoria. To have the real action happen off-panel I feel loses a lot of that effect. If there is any criticism to give of the script, I believe this is where the opportunity to get a lot of rise from a reader might be. Yet, that may not be what Bunn wants to or where he wants to take the story, so if that is the case then I can certainly respect it.
Harrow County #21 is seemingly horror but ultimately fairy tale, likened to a show like Grimm. Emmy serves as the liaison between humans and haints, serving both communities while unwilling to stand idly by as atrocities are committed by one against the other. It sets the perfect mood for tension and fear while at the same time offering up a solid story of a protector of a disenfranchised community labeled as “the other.” The art and story blend perfectly, and Crook and Bunn do a lot of work to keep you glued to the page with the suspense of every panel. An interesting read from cover to cover, and the twists in plot and in expectations keep audiences attention throughout. While there may be some who have issue with the usage of watercolors and the inconsistency it produces on some of the artwork, the strength of the story carries us through.
- Lots of suspense, expectations based on scene
- Twists in plot that keep you interested
- Art style reflects the feeling of fear, expectation
- Art style may seem cartoonish/simple in places
- Colors can be inconsistent