REVIEW: Gideon Falls #14 plays on small details from throughout the series

By Jarred A. Luján — If you’ve been following along with my reviews, I’ve enthusiastically written about Gideon Falls for several issues now. Each time I sit down to write a new review, I genuinely worry that I’m going to end up repeating myself each time because…well, because this book continues to be so damn good.  

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REVIEW: Gideon Falls #13 continues to shift this series’ central mystery

By Jarred A. Luján — Gideon Falls is back this week, once again thrusting readers into the most insane mystery happening in all of modern comics. This is a series wherein almost every single issues has left its audience with bigger questions than it went in with. Gideon Falls #13 is no different….

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Top Comics to Buy for May 8, 2019: Black Hammer Age of Doom #10, Vault Comics, and more!

By Zack Quaintance — This is a nice week for new comics, one in which the releases are mercifully a bit smaller in volume. This can perhaps be attributed to Free Comic Book Day taking place on Saturday. Publishers wisely got as much of their product as they could on shelves last week, so the hordes of FCBD attendees could scope it out and (hopefully) buy it.

Nevertheless! There are plenty of great choices for our Top Comics to Buy for May 8, 2019. This week’s group is headlined by…

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REVIEW: Ascender #1 is a fascinating realignment of the world from Descender

Ascender #1 is slated for release 4/24/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Ascender #1 is an odd comic, in that it feels like both a vague continuation of a previous story (Descender, to be exact), and a wholly new beginning that’s not beholden to anything that’s come before. I don’t mean any of that as a criticism. To the contrary, I think it’s all to the book’s credit. Allow me to the current market, it’s not at all uncommon for books to cease for a few months, giving the trade time to come out and the artist a time buffer with which to get ahead. Sometimes, these books come back following time jumps or new status quos or major cliffhangers.

What we get in Ascender, however, is a total aesthetic realignment. Whereas Descender (which wrapped up with Descender #32 in July) was a hard sci-fi book with a focus on robotics and an almost-believable bend, Ascender is a foray into dragons and magic and all things fantasy. It’s still firmly within the genre fiction category, but in many ways its gone to the complete other side of the spectrum, trading its science for whimsy.

And the effect is a freeing one! At least as it applies to series artist Dustin Nguyen, who in this book is drawing his 33rd issue within the Descender/Ascender world. Nguyen’s artwork in Descender was forlorn and moody set of visuals, using its dull watercolor palette to often blur the lines between where reality ended and the existential fever dream began. His visuals—as much as Jeff Lemire’s plotting—often begged the question about where the robotic intelligence stopped and where the human soul began. It was a highly philosophical story stowed within the trappings of a space opera, one as likely to ask what makes an individual distinct as it was to throw a robot with drills for hands into a coliseum fight for its survival.   

Ascender #1 doesn’t really pick up on the question of humanity versus simulated humanity that so thoroughly drove the previous volume of this story, at least it doesn’t seem to yet. That’s not to say it will never return to that issue. There are certainly hints of it. First and foremost though, what’s happening in this new world (10 years past the events of the previous story) is a technological purge driven by monsters and magic. There are new powers, new villains, new status quos. I won’t go into them—this is an advanced review and we’re nothing here if not wary of spoilers—but I will again return to the idea of freedom. Both Lemire’s script and Nguyen’s visual execution feel liberated, and that’s a very good thing for our story.

If I had to guess, I’d wager this ends up being a story of extremes and balance. With Descender, a case was maybe made against extreme reliance upon robots and AI and the trappings of technology. It’s still very early—in the interest of symmetry, I’m guessing Ascender may also run for #32 issues)—but I could see this book as a warning against turning entirely away from tech to embrace folklore, mythology, and ideas rooted in the sensational. I’m just guessing, but there’s maybe a larger point there—shifting the genre within this story has opened a wide range of new possibilities.  

Overall: As Descender was to hard sci-fi, Ascender is to high fantasy, although traces of the past story remain. Most importantly, though, this realignment seems to have instilled writer Jeff Lemire and artist Dustin Nguyen with a new sense of creative freedom, and I’m excited to see what they do with it. 8.5/10

Ascender #1
Jeff Lemire
Dustin Nguyen
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99
Release Date: April 24, 2019

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

ADVANCED REVIEW: Black Hammer ‘45 #1 expands this growing universe into a new genre

Black Hammer ‘45 #1 is out 3/6/2019.

By Zack Quaintance — Black Hammer ‘45 is something wholly new for the burgeoning Black Hammer Universe at Dark Horse Comics, created slowly over the course of the last few years by writer/artist Jeff Lemire and a host of talented collaborators. Indeed, this is the first comic in a stable that now numbers roughly half a dozen, including the ongoing main story, a host of minis, a one-shot, and Quantum Age, which I don’t even know the scope of—ask me, it can and should run two dozen issues.

Black Hammer ‘45, however, marks the first of these comics that (at least in its first issue) has very little to do with superheroes. It is also the first of these books in which Jeff Lemire is not named as the lone writer, having only a story by credit instead. The actual writing of the comic falls to Lemire’s good friend Ray Fawkes. The art, meanwhile, is provided by another of his friends, Matt Kindt, who like Lemire is a writer slash artist of considerable talent and renown. This comic, in other words, has a mightily talented—if a bit insular—pedigree to its creative team, and that much is evident in its pages. Readers will find no shortage of craft nor ideas in this book. It looks and reads as wonderfully as one has come to expect.

The genre, meanwhile, is a step outside the superhero fare that has largely marked the Black Hammer Universe to date. See, Black Hammer is an extended homage as filtered through Lemire and his collaborators’ sensibilities. We get characters that are at once recognizable and novel, reminding of us old favorites while simultaneously pushing into new (and often more somber) territories, be it an approximation of James Robinson’s Starman or a facsimile for the Legion of Superheroes.

Black Hammer ‘45 is that same sort of homage, yet it pushes outward from the superhero genre, instead drawing its inspiration from Golden Age World War II comics, perhaps most specifically from The Blackhawks. Although, like all of the Black Hammer books, other influences find a way of creeping in. Those range from the real-life story of the Tuskegee Air Men to stories about steampunk mechs. There’s a lot, and it’s all good, and like the rest of these books, it all coalesces into something fresh and unique.

This debut issue itself is also well-crafted, everything from Matt and Sharlene Kindt’s artwork to the way flashback pages looked yellowed and old (even in the advance review PDF...I imagine in the physical copy the effect will be even more noticeable). Fawkes rights it well, too, doing a nice balancing act between action in the past and present, and also finding interesting ways (ways that I won’t spoil) to connect to other parts of the ongoing Black Hammer narrative.

Overall: Fans of the main Black Hammer series will be thrilled the book is branching off into new and interesting territory. Jeff Lemire has said he loves his Black Hammer books because they allow him to do pretty much any kind of comic he wants. This book is proof positive of that. 8.8/10

Black Hammer ‘45 #1
Story By:
Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes
Writer: Ray Fawkes
Artist: Matt Kindt
Colorist: Sharlene Kindt
Letterer: Marie Enger
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Price: $3.99
Release Date: March 6, 2019

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

REVIEW: Gideon Falls #11 stirs horror with more unpredictable developments

Gideon Falls #11 is out 2/13/2019.

By Jarred A. Luján — I’m not going to pretend like I’ve read everything Jeff Lemire has ever written. I’ve read some of his Big 2 work, but only a little of his independent stuff, including his recent Hit-Girl run. Andrea Sorrentino is a similar case, in that before Gideon Falls I’d seen some of his stuff for Marvel and DC, but otherwise, I couldn’t say I devoutly followed his releases. So when Gideon Falls launched, I only picked it up because of a recommendation on Twitter from Marvel writer Matthew Rosenberg.

Just shy of a year later, I haven’t missed a single issue of this book. There are few better examples of why than this month’s issue, Gideon Falls #11.

So many of Gideon Falls’ horror aspects come from Sorrentino’s willingness to take chances with the way he lays his artwork out. The art in this issue, for example, ranges from traditional panel layouts, to pages with a cyclical panel system, to a page that’s entirely upside down, to make-shift panels scrawled throughout splash pages, to back-to-back-to-back double spread pages. When things really begin to come undone here, Sorrentino’s artwork lets the page come undone as well. Allowing it to feel as disjointed and unnerved as our characters do has consistently set Gideon Falls apart from other horror comics.

One of my favorite parts of Gideon Falls has also been the pacing. Lemire has only given us bits and pieces of this intricate plot, and every big influx of information is countered with new ground that makes readers aware of how little they actually know. Lemire is giving the audience pieces to the puzzle, sure, but he’s still withholding how those pieces connect. At 11 issues in, I still have no clue where this story is going, and, just like Sorrentino’s art, that is part of what makes this book so horrifying to me: there is no safety in the prediction of the narrative. As a reader, you are immersed in the protagonists’ stories by knowing only as much as they do. This issue, following what was likely the biggest issue of the run so far, pulled back the curtain on the workings of the Black Barn only to reveal that there are many more curtains. Lemire giveth, Lemire taketh away.

The next chapter of Gideon Falls releases in April, giving us all a month to try and figure out what the hell is going on…but if the past is any indication, I have a feeling we’ll fail at that.

Overall: This issue is as frightening as it is dizzying. There is so much going on in this series, and readers don’t yet know how deep into the mysteries and the story they’ve gone. This is a horror book in a class of its own, and I highly recommend doing yourself a favor and getting caught up with it. 9.0/10

Gideon Falls #11
Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99

Jarred A. Luján makes comics, studies existential philosophy, and listens to hip-hop too loudly. For bad jokes and dog pictures, you can follow him on Twitter.

Top Comics of 2018, #16 - #25

By Zack Quaintance —  The most difficult thing about a strong year for comics (like this one) is doing a year-end Best Of list. Now, to be sure, no one mandates websites do rankings. That would be a clear violation of civil liberties. There is, however, a part of the pop culture blogger brain that goes wild for it, whispering all year long...where does this one rank...and if you don’t satisfy that beast—well, bad things happen.

So, here we our with ours, freshly formulated for 2018 by our committee of one. Before we dive into part 1, which features in descending order selections #25 to #16 (the other two parts are coming tomorrow, worry not), let’s lay down ground rules:

  • No trades or OGNs: Building out our OGN coverage is a priority for 2019. We’re just not there yet. So, while I absolutely loved work like Tillie Walden’s On a Sunbeam, Box Brown’s Is This Guy For Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, and Ryan Lindsay and Eric Zawadzki’s Eternal, you won’t find them here. Ideally, next year’s we’ll have an entire post dedicated to OGNs.

  • No webcomics, manga, or newspaper strips: Again, our site is a bit deficient covering these (if you are into these things, we’d love to chat about you writing for us!). I should, of course, mention that in 2018 someone under the pen name Olivia James took over the long-running Nancy strip and did amazing things with it (Sluggo is lit), but, again, you won’t find it on our list.

  • Longevity matters: New this year, you will find what I consider a key stat—how many issues were published this year. Late debut series like Die, Electric Warriors, and Bitter Root have tons of promise. They just haven’t been around enough to be a definitive comic of 2018. Ditto for comics that ended in April or earlier.

There you have it: guiding principles of our Top Comics of 2018. Now, without further adieu, let’s get this bad hombre started!

Top Comics of 2018, #16 - #25

25. Snotgirl
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Artist: Leslie Hung
Colorist: Mickey Quinn
Letterer: Mare Odomo
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 4

In 2018, Snotgirl returned from hiatus with an every-other-month schedule, which ended up spreading four issues over the year. Its steady publication schedule gave it a decidedly 2018 feel. We also saw the plot in this story evolve, using its Instagram-driven L.A. ego hellscape motif to dip a toe into ideas of the supernatural.

Moreover, this book has a singular look and feel. O’Malley’s scripting is satirical and biting, using our increasingly-intense desire to appear perfect online as fertile ground for true existential horror. More credit, however, is owed to the art of Leslie Hung and colors of Mickey Quinn. From Hung’s disheveled-yet-shapely men and women—all of whom are equally gorgeous and barely hanging on—to the vibrant greens Quinn lands somewhere between snotty and stylish, the visuals work in perfect harmony with the story. It’s really something special.    

24. Abbott
Saladin Ahmed
Artist: Sami Kivela
Colorist: Jason Wordie
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Issues in 2018: 5

Our committee of one won’t be able to sum up this book better than contributing writer Maya Kesh in our Best Comics of 2018: Contributor Picks. So, go check that out. When you’re done, I’ll be here trying to add to Maya’s excellent thoughts on this series. Like our #25 pick before it, Abbott is a singular comic in everything from its protagonist to its setting to the concerns of its characters.

It’s set in the ‘70s in Detroit—a place and time dismissed as of late by most stories in pop culture. Add a black female protagonist who works as a reporter, and you’ve got a collection of story elements that stand on their own as different and intriguing. Writer Ahmed and artist Kivela don’t, however, rest on that. The story they tell is tense and mysterious, rich with themes of oppression and the paranormal. Basically, I’m with Maya when she says she hopes we haven’t seen the last of this character.

23. Long Lost Part 2
Matthew Erman
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Publisher: Scout Comics
Issues in 2018: 5

This is, perhaps, cheating, seeing as the finale to this series is due in 2019 but I’ve already read (and loved) it. I won’t, however, let the ending slip. Long Lost is a poetic and understated story about change, the past, and family. From husband-wife team writer Matthew Erman and artist Lisa Sterle, Long Lost is a literary and confident comic with much to say about our transient generation, so bent on putting withering hometowns behind us.

And it says these things with a mix of ideas and imagery. The penultimate issue came out on 12/19, and as I wrote in my Long Lost Part 2 #5 review, it saw the creators expressing what this story is about: “Long Lost is about leaving your hometown...yet feeling a pull to return, a call home from our past. When we arrive, the place is nigh-unrecognizable. Relatives we thought we knew are so different as to be irreconcilable with who they once were in the past. They’re acting in strange ways, motivated by the hopes of enticing a magic cure for suffering, unemployment, sickness...with methods making them all uglier.” It was a great read in 2018 will be collected in trade this spring.

22. Skyward
Joe Henderson
Artist: Lee Garbett
Colorist: Antonio Fabela
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 9

My reaction to Skyward #1 was: where did this comic come from and how is it so polished and fully-formed? The answer on both fronts is that this book was written by Joe Henderson—a TV veteran who most recently oversaw Lucifer—who I came to find out (via the Word Balloon podcast) has a long history of involvement with comics dating back to Bendis’ message board. He’s teamed with powerhouse artist Lee Garbett on this one.

There’s a lot to like about Skyward. It’s narrative structure is ironclad, leaving no holes or lapses to distract reader attention. The science within extrapolates a world-altering event similar to how Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra did in Y: The Last Man, and it’s characters’ tones are so earnest and hopeful that one could probably even read this comic with family. It’s also kept to a regular release schedule, which is so key for creator-owned books like this one, jockeying for attention on a crowded rack.

21. Euthanauts
Tini Howard
Artist: Nick Robles
Letterer: Aditya Bidikar
Publisher: IDW Black Crown
Issues in 2018: 4

This is another book that a contributor summed up so perfectly earlier this week (this time it was Allison and you can and should read it here). Yet, once again as the official committee of one, I will do my best to inject something new into this conversation. Euthanauts is, quite simply, one of the most gorgeous books on the stands. It’s the type of story you let wash over you like a poem, finding intense ideas and moments of beauty as you page through it.

Writer Tini Howard and artist Nick Robles are both powerful talents, destined for greatest things in the industry. Before they get there, however, I for one feel lucky to be around to see their beautiful book of life and death unspooling in real time. There are many great books right now on Shelly Bond’s Black Crown imprint (House Amok and Lodger both could have made our list had they published more issues), but Euthanauts is the crown jewel of that collection.

20. Royal City
Jeff Lemire
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 7
Royal City wrapped up in August, which I found surprising, possibly because the ever-prolific Jeff Lemire (who pulls double duty here both writing and doing art) has put out so much work since this one concluded. And while a hefty volume of that work is to be celebrated (more on that as we get closer to the top), none of his stories had the intense emotional core that Royal City did.

A spiritual and semi-direct successor to Lemire’s seminal work on Essex County, this is one of the rare comics in 2018 that moved me to tears, doing so with its story of love, loss, adolescence to adulthood, and perseverance in the face of life’s small-yet-crushing defeats. I would love to get a hardcover version of these 14 issues to keep forever on my shelf, which given the space limitations that plague my collection these days, is a high compliment indeed.

19. Submerged
Vita Ayala
Artist: Lisa Sterle
Colorist: Stelladia
Letterer: Rachel Deering
Publisher: Vault Comics
Issues in 2018: 4

The first—but certainly not the last—of the Vault Comics on our list, Submerged launched in July and concluded in December. It’s a haunting story of family discord that ultimately manifests in a tangle with mythology during one of the most dangerous storms New York City has weathered in modern history. Vita Ayala is one of the brightest rising stars in the industry, and they do incredible work with this one, expertly balancing the revelations about family backstory with the paranormal threats faced in the present by our characters.

Lisa Sterle (who you may remember early from our writeup of Long Lost) once again creates grounded-yet-disturbing imagery to go along with Ayala’s scripting. This is one of those four-part stories you’ll want to go out and get in trade, so you’ll have it to page through often at your leisure. The impression it leaves is indelible, and Ayala and Sterle are both clearly creators to watch in the coming year.

18. Cover
Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: David Mack
Digital Coloring: Zu Orzu
Letterer: Carlos M. Mangual
Issues in 2018: 4

I saw Brian Bendis and David Mack talk about this book during Rose City Comic Con this September in Portland. Bendis noted that most other mediums—movies, music, books, etc.—have had myriad stories told about what it’s like in their industry. Not so with comics. Cover, however, sets out to change that, detailing what it feels like to table at cons as a semi-notable pro...while also working for the CIA.

The espionage subplot is, to be sure, the engine propelling this comic further, but the emotional core has to do with artistic accomplishments and satisfaction, with finding the places where ones art ends and real life begins, with examining how much artistic achievement can wash away loneliness, solitude, and rifts between family. On top of that thematic goodness, this one is expertly rendered by Mack, who uses visual flourishes often to convey intensity of emotion.    

17. Crowded
Christopher Sebela
Artist: Ro Stein
Inker: Ted Brandt
Colorist: Triona Farrell
Letterer: Cardinal Rae
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 5

After what I personally perceived as somewhat of a down year for new comics in 2017, Image (our committee of one’s favorite publisher) bounced back with a vengeance in 2018, launching a dozen new series and mini-series with major staying power (more on that next stay tuned!). Chief among those great new books was Crowded from writer Christopher Sebela and artists Ro Stein, Ted Brandt, and Triona Farrell.

There was no shortage of comics this year that look at terrifying near futures. What Crowded did, however, was extrapolate a startlingly-realistic idea (crowdfunded assassination bounty apps) with as taught of a buddy-drama/chase thriller narrative as we’ve seen as of late in any medium. This is a story built to elicit white knuckles, both in terms of what’s happening on the page and what it has to say about the current direction of society.

16. Gideon Falls
Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Issues in 2018: 9

This book has a special place in our committee of one’s heart: It was the first comic we ever reviewed on this site, all the way back in January. We gave it a glowing review, predicting it would become the next big Image comic. Thankfully, time was on our side. This comic—from the well-worn creative team of Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino—hit the ground running and is yet to let up.

It started as what felt like an homage to Twin Peaks. The end of the first arc and the first half of the second, however, has built this story into a creepy mystery all of its own, establishing it as something different with expert use of a dual narrative. Sorrentino’s artwork is also absolutely it’s own thing, as visionary as anything on the monthly comic stands right now. It’s 100 percent a testament to the strength of comics this year that a book as good as Gideon Falls finishes #16 overall on our list, but here we are. Oh, and worry not Lemire fans...his other work will be landing higher (much higher!) on this list.

Check back tomorrow for our Best Comics of 2018, #1 - #15! And check back later in the week for more year-end lists, including our Best Single Issues and our Top Creators of 2018!

For the history-minded readers, you can find our Top Comics of 2017, Part 1, 2 and 3 online now!

Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.

Comic of the Week: Black Hammer Cthu-Louise, an Original Idea in a World of Homage

Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise is out now.

By d. emerson eddy — For a few years now Jeff Lemire and Dean Ormston, along with a host of other talented collaborators, have been building a universe at Dark Horse in Black Hammer, founded on a deep love for Silver Age comics, paying homage to many of the characters and characteristics of that era. The series began as a kind of mystery about the disappearance of a Justice League analogue, but quickly spiralled out into spin-off series, including a far-flung future with teen heroes and a focus on one of Black Hammer's arch-enemies and his legion of villains. It was in this spin-off, Sherlock Frankenstein & The Legion of Evil, that we first met Chtu-Lou, and his cute little daughter, Cthu-Louise.

While the homages to the Silver Age Justice League, Legion of Super-Heroes, Legion of Doom, Vertigo, and beyond are wonderful, reading through The Quantum Age #5 this week as well got me wondering if the Black Hammer universe would work as well without the pastiches and homages to DC Comics. For my money, yes. I actually find that the non-homage, original characters and story elements are even more impressive. Such is Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise, a one-shot from Jeff Lemire, Emi Lennox, Dave Stewart, and Todd Klein.

This story plays hard into one of Lemire's favorite themes, the importance of family, but it does so from a unique perspective. Louise doesn't have a loving family. Her father, Lou, was a super-villain, and now is just a lazy, abusive father taking out his frustration on his relatively innocent daughter, who is only looking for love and acceptance. Her mother is absent most of the time, working, but is equally emotionally abusive to Louise. When you add the problems she has at school due to her monstrous appearance, Cthu-Louise doesn't have an easy life. But she does have her “grandfather”, the elder god who granted her father his powers and thereby hers, and it's interesting how Lemire massages this into an “Eye of the Beholder”-type story.

Lemire's Plutona collaborator, Emi Lenox, handles the line art for this story and, combined with the greens and purples of Dave Stewart's colors, presents a fairly light-hearted, cartoon-like style. It works well for Louise's age, giving it a colorful, deceptively-simple appearance, covering the darkness beneath the surface.

On top of that, the lettering from the legendary Todd Klein adds overall to the feel of the story, giving us some unique fonts and word balloons for Cthu-Louise, Cthu-Lou, and her grandfather. It's particularly interesting the gradation of the word balloons that the style of Cthu-Louise and Cthu-Lou's is about halfway between the normal human balloons and that used by her grandfather. It's a subtle way of showing that Cthu-Louise is an intermediary between normal and the beyond.

Overall, this is an excellent comic that shows the possibilities of the Black Hammer world outside of the main narrative, that the universe itself has legs of its own, and that the characters within it can carry a story without necessarily working within the meta-narrative of Silver Age homage and nostalgia (even if Cthu-Louise herself is a twist on a Lovecraftian pastiche). Lemire, Lenox, Stewart, and Klein give us a story that stands on its own tentacles.

Black Hammer: Cthu-Louise
Jeff Lemire
Artist: Emi Lenox
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Publisher: Dark Horse
Price: $3.99

Check out past Comic of the Week selections on the list page.

d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on twitter @93418.

REVIEW: Gideon Falls #7 Feels Like a Fantastic Season Premiere

Gideon Falls #7 is out 10/17.

By Bo Stewart — Gideon Falls ended its first story arc earlier this year with a bang. Our trip into the sinister and supernatural Black Barn was a high point not only for the series, but for horror comics at large. Coming into Gideon Falls #7, I suspected we would likely face a dip in excitement, but thankfully that isn’t the case. Creators Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino very wisely treat issue seven like a season premiere of television. It’s maybe not as fast-paced as previous issues, but this comic effectively resets the board while also laying the groundwork for what’s to come in the arc ahead.

Gideon Falls is a strange-people-in-a-strange-town story done right. Ever since Twin Peaks became a cult classic, storytellers have tried and (more often than not) failed to replicate this sort of formula. It’s a delicate balance of finding the absurd in mundane moments, and precious few stories have the patience to let narratives like this build to crescendos. Once the town secret is revealed, the story quickly becomes stale. Gideon Falls #7’s greatest triumph is proving that the story of the Black Barn has legs.

The Barn’s origins, nature, and intent are the central mystery of this story. We got a small peek behind the curtain in #6 (in one of the best sequences of the year), but the full mysteries of the Barn won’t be revealed until the main character, Norton, achieves his goal of rebuilding the Barn…using the original materials that he’s collecting and keeping in jars. The undertaking of finding chips of wood, nails, screws, etc. spread all over town, and subsequently using them to rebuild the original Barn is overwhelming, especially as others continue to question Norton’s mental health. It gives the reader a keen insight into Norton’s mind and the suffocating presence the Barn has had and continues to have on his life.

Indeed, the second arc of this story is appropriately titled Sum of its Parts. Andrea Sorrentino’s art plays off this and engages the reader in ways no other book is currently doing. The panel variety is astounding, with each issue featuring at least one type of layout that I’ve personally never seen before. These innovative layouts give us a far better sense of who Norton is than any dialogue or narration ever could. For example, for the final page of Gideon Falls #7, the art is literally flipped vertically on its side. In most books, this would be a distraction, but here, the disorienting effect actively aids the storytelling. Like the title of this arc, each page adds up to more than the sum of its parts.

Gideon Falls is comics storytelling at its finest. It prioritizes mood and sense of place over fascination with a mysterious barn. Each page is littered with tension and oozes atmosphere. I think it’s this focus that makes Gideon Falls such a success where similar stories have been failures.  It’s a comic that knows exactly what it is and after#7, I can confidently say I’m in for the long run.

Overall: Creators Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino treat Gideon Falls #7 like a season debut of television. This issue isn’t as fast-paced as some chapters from the first arc, but it thrives in character-driven moments. I’m eagerly awaiting the twists to come. Oh, and that cliffhanger… wow! 9.0/10

For more comic book reviews, check out our review archives.

Bo grinds for the man by day so he can create comics by night. He is the lesser half of the Stewart Brothers writing team and can be found on Twitter and Instagram @stewart_bros