Publisher: DC (Hill House Comics Imprint)
Writer: Joe Hill
Colours: Dave Stewart
Lettering: Devon Bennett
Release Date: 30th October 2019
When I heard that Joe Hill was going to be headlining a new comic series for DC, I nearly passed out with excitement. Joe Hill is a superb author, there is no doubt about that. His novels are incredible works of art that weave stories of horror and fantasy that are the equal of any of his peers, but I have always felt that where he really shines is in his work with comics. For example, there are very few who could deny that Locke & Key is easily one of the great classic comic series’ of all time.
We open at night, with a figure in a yellow slicker, on a bridge in the pouring rain, carrying an axe and a basket covered with the tatters of an American flag. As the figure crosses the bridge, we hear voices coming from the basket and what appears to be an eye glinting from under the flag…
Flashing back to “before”, the story starts in the early 1980s in the small town of Brody Island, Maine. June Branch is winding up the summer with her boyfriend Liam, who has been working as a deputy for the local chief of police during his summer vacation. On their way to a farewell dinner being thrown by Chief Clausen, they discover that a group of convicts from Derry County’s infamous Shawshank prison have escaped from a chain gang just outside of town.
Just so you know, at this point I was cheering, actually cheering while reading the comic…
If you’ve ever read anything by Joe Hill, you’ll know that this is the point where things are going to start going off the rails, often slowly, with that Lovecraftian creeping dread and terror leading up to something spectacularly horrific. But that’s not what this issue is about. This issue is very much the set-up. It’s all about establishing the characters and the world they inhabit without rushing in and giving too much away too early.
Hill has demonstrated on many occasions that he has the skills to build superb, gritty, real worlds and populate them with horrors both human and other, and Basketful of Heads is definitely well on the way with that. We have a wealth of interesting, relatable people who I’m really worried about becoming too attached to, particularly because Joe Hill has a history of doing really horrible things to characters I’ve become invested in. As I said, this issue is about world building rather than going for the jugular, but there are sufficient moments to give you pause.
Leomac and Dave Stewart deliver some incredible early EC-style artwork with a contemporary twist. The characters are all brilliantly executed, Chief Clausen has a Lee Marvin thing going on and Liam has the look of a young William Katt. The twist is in both the depiction and writing of June Branch, she’s most definitely not your typical final girl. Yes, she’s got the perky blonde cheerleader thing going on, but she’s a very confident, sexually precocious character, who appears to be in full command of every situation. I think she’s going to make for a very interesting and bad-ass protagonist in the chapters to come.
I do my level best when talking about Hill’s work to not draw comparisons with his father’s work, but there are so many, some subtle and some not so, references to worlds that Stephen King has created in this first issue that it’s impossible not to. I loved the familiar feel to the surroundings, which helped me get into the story so much more quickly, and I have to confess to more than one squeal of delight at some of the references and images.
Now, my one niggle about this comic has absolutely nothing to do with any of the work by the creative team. Remember recently when DC killed Vertigo in order to streamline its offerings and make it simpler and more accessible for its readers? Well, Basketful of Heads is published by pop-up imprint Hill House Comics, under the DC Black Label, which is in itself an imprint of Detective Comics. See? Much simpler…
Niggles about DC’s branding debacle aside, there is very little that I can fault in this issue. If anything, I’d have liked it to be longer, and I’d actually have liked the opportunity to read all seven issues right now, because I know it’s going to be a bloody, fantastic, romp!
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek