Advance Review – Mountainhead #1 (IDW Publishing)

Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: John Lees
Artist: Ryan Lee
Colours: Doug Garbark
Letters: Shawn Lee
Release Date: 28th August 2019

“Don’t slow down. Don’t get comfortable. Don’t think you’re safe. Be ready to run.”

Abraham Stubbs and his father Noah live off the grid. Convinced that shadowy government forces are tracking them, Noah keeps them on the move, burgling houses to support their existence. However, when a burglary goes wrong with almost tragic results, Abraham finds his world turned upside down and discovers that not even he is who he thought he was. Transplanted to an isolated mountain town and seeing danger in every shadow, Abraham finds himself on a collision course with the sole survivor of an horrific disaster on the mountain.

You’re going to have to bear with me while I order my thoughts about Mountainhead. This first issue is simply superb and there’s so much going on that I’m really not sure where to start. To complicate things, I also have to try to tell you just how good it is without actually talking you through every single page and spoiling the whole thing for you.

John Lees specialises in truly gritty thrillers with horror running through their core. Mountainhead shows all the signs that it is going to be more of the same – in a good way, of course. If you’ve never read any of Lees’ work before (and if you haven’t where have you been?), you’ll know that he writes interesting, complex and well developed characters. The effort that goes into what might at first seem a throwaway extra, passing through the main characters’ lives, is always above and beyond.

As a study of paranoia, Noah is quite a sight, and for no reason I can justify, I could not help but think, Tim Robbins needs to play this guy when they inevitably sell the movie rights. Whilst undoubtedly dangerous, delusional and probably borderline paranoid schizophrenic, Noah only intends to protect and teach Abraham, a motivation which engenders sympathy for someone who is, by all definitions, morally irrepressible.

Abraham is unequivocally the victim of a horrific crime but he is also, understandably, unable to be the victim everyone expects him to be. His father has always been a loving if somewhat erratic parent who has taught him to fear and mistrust authority and the pitfalls of risking exposure by being seen by Noah’s “black hats”. Even when faced with the happiest of all possible happy endings, Noah still finds himself having look for the threat and the deception.

Pretty much all of my favourite thrillers and horror stories revolve around isolation, and the vast majority of those are set in the snow and ice. As such, Lees happily ticks all the boxes for me with a thriller set in a small town in the mountains of British Columbia. I can honestly say that I have no idea where this story is going to take us, but there is a strong vibe of Stephen King, Twin Peaks, a bit of Dean Koontz and you just know, in your bones, that this is going to be something special.

Now that I’ve finished stroking Mr. Lees’ ego, I have to talk to you about the artwork. Normally I like to say a little bit about the artist and the colourist separately but I think what Ryan Lee and Doug Garbark have created is such a complete package that you can’t separate them out. Now I’m going to gush a little bit here so apologies in advance. Last year I was reading the now sadly dead in the water, Leviathan. Nick Pitarra and Michael Garland were responsible for the artwork on that and they took top spot as my top art team of 2018. This artwork is very similar in style but with its own personality stamped on it and it’s already the equal of what I voted top of my list last year. The style is cartoony, but with so much detail it really is a feast for the eyes. The panel design is also great, and the way the spaces between the panels are used is really interesting, seeing the darkness insinuating itself around the edges, the demons surrounding Abraham, peeking through the gaps.

There’s no shyness in the use of colour in this issue. Whilst I’m a huge fan of Dave Stewart’s minimalistic approach to palettes that has become so very popular in comics these days, it’s fantastic to see artists doing their own thing and splashing those pages with colour. If you’ve read John Lees’ other work “Sink” (and I really hope you have), then there is a particular significance attached to the colour red. From what I’ve seen so far in this issue, I think it might be wise to pay attention to it in this series too.

One of the things you might also want to look out for is Easter Eggs. I spotted one, having been an avid mountaineer in the Cairngorms, and I’ll be very surprised if there aren’t more (I’m sure I’ll find more on re-reads).

I’m not going to leave out Shawn Lee either. I’ve been a huge fan of his lettering and design work for a while now and he knocks it out of the park again, adding an extra touch to this issue that brings it all together. Letters are often left out, a bit like the drummer of the band, but hopefully, people are starting to realise how important their contribution to an issue can be, and Shawn Lee is one of those that is doing great work.

Buy this book. No ifs, ands or buts. Buy it! I caught a lot of buzz about this book over the last few weeks and while the reality rarely lives up to the hype, I’m delighted to say that on this occasion it really does!

Rating: 4.5/5.

The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek ‏

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