Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artist: Tyler Crook
Release Date: May 13th, 2015
Harrow County, the latest offering from Dark Horse – the undisputed kings of comicbook horror – opens to a fairly brutal scene. Hester Beck, a local healer whose increasingly macabre practices have put the townsfolk on edge, is burned as a witch and offers a chilling warning to the town with her dying breath.
From this truly haunting scene we jump forwards in time and are introduced to Emmy, a simple young Harrow farmgirl on the eve of her eighteenth birthday who is becoming increasingly troubled by the strange occurrences that are plaguing her home. The lonely, lightning-scarred oak tree at the centre of town whispers to her in her dreams, hissing the word ‘lies’ over and over again; livestock are born bloody and mutilated – her father calls it a disease, a plague, but Emmy isn’t convinced; she also suspects that the woods surrounding her home are host to all manner of ghosts and goblins, but has no idea that she may be connected to these creatures in a way she never thought possible.
Writer Cullen Bunn paints a relatively simple picture of a bored, lonely young girl in this opening issue, but a picture tinged with an unnatural, all-prevailing sense of dread. As gorgeous as the artwork is, there’s an unshakable feeling throughout this book that something isn’t quite right, and a generally unnerving atmosphere that reaches a crescendo during the frenetic, pulse-raising final pages.
On the subject of the artwork, Tyler Crook puts forth some truly beautiful imagery here; richly coloured farmland and expressive characters mixed with fleeting glimpses of supernatural horror. There’s something almost European in his slightly caricatured style that somehow makes the brief moments of horror all the more unsettling, and his ability to convey the tense, claustrophobic nature of the final scene bodes extremely well for the rest of this series. Also, if you’re interested, Crook has released several videos of his artistic process which give some idea of the work involved – as well as a tasty preview of some of the aforementioned imagery.
It’s also worth noting that, in a clever attempt to try and boost sales of the single issues, each issue also comes with a backup story that adds some extra flavour to the ongoing tale. These stories won’t appear in any trade paperback, and this first offering – featuring artwork from Owen Gieni – serves as an utterly creepy one-page slice of Harrow County life.
Part coming-of-age drama and part backwoods horror story, Harrow County is a series that crawls under your skin and stays there, painting a vividly unnerving picture of a deeply troubled town. Beautifully paced in this opening chapter, Bunn and Crook are playing their cards close to their chest for the time being, only offering mere glimpses at the true horror to come, and – if the final pages are anything to go by – ‘horror’ may be a major understatement.