Through-the-Woods

I haven’t done a comics-focused column in a while; seems like it’s the right time to remedy that. While none of the three books here is exactly what I’d call holiday weekend beach reading, there’s plenty to entertain in these volumes–and more than a little to unsettle as well.

Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods contains a quintet of unsettling stories. Some seem drawn from folktales; others, such as “The Nesting Place,” about a young woman who goes to visit a friend in the country, feel more contemporary. Carroll uses the open spaces of these pages well; her page-to-page pacing is wonderful, and the incorporation of text–sometimes as narration, sometimes as dialogue–is handled very well. Some of the horrors here are implied; sometimes the tone is scary, while in others, the monsters are viscerally real. (One story features a scene of body horror that called to mind Junji Ito in its level of skin-crawling menace.) I read this late at night, alone in my apartment. That was probably not the wisest idea.

At the center of Black Science: How to Fall Forever, by Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera, is Grant McKay, a visionary  scientist beloved by some and hated by others. The setup for the book is classic pulp science fiction: a group of unlikely observers lost in a series of parallel universes, but the relationship between the characters marks this as distinctively modern. We can see why McKay inspires devotion, for instance, but the one main character who detests him has valid reasons for doing so, and the affair that he’s in as the book opens doesn’t make him particularly endearing. Which is one of the points of the series so far: the alpha-male scientist hero, rather than being iconic and inspirational, can also be irritable, crappy to those around him, and petty. Also, there’s the threat of constant death; also, there are threats from everything from parallel-universe German troops to sinister frog-people with electric tongues to disembodied plant consciousnesses. It’s memorably over-the-top stuff.

Tim Seely and Mike Norton’s Revival is billed on the cover as a “rural noir,” but those expecting a story with echoes of (say) Donnell Woodward will be more than a little thrown. The first volume, You’re Among Friends, does contain unsolved murders, secret affairs, and blackmail of the rich and powerful, there’s also a surreal central hook: in a small Midwestern town, everyone who died within a certain period of time has returned to life, healing from their wounds (sometimes viscerally) and rendered seemingly unkillable. Weird happenings abound, even as personal conflicts flare up; it’s a fine beginning, and I daresay I’m hooked.

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