By Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook
Growing up is rife with insecurities. You feel alone, scared and unsure about what you’re supposed to be or who you are. Not quite an adult, but no longer the carefree sprite you once were running amongst the fallen leaves across the farm. It can feel like the whole world is filled with monsters, or worse yet, that you’re a monster. The pressure is there, as though the whole town, even your own parents, want you gone. And you’re the reincarnated form of an evil witch that demands vengeance. Turning eighteen is terrifying, right? In the case of Emmy all of this change is happening rapidly and feels simultaneously natural and unnatural as the all too real ghosts of the past bear down on you. Harrow County #3 brings us face to face with the grotesque pastoral horrors in the form of undead haints and the monstrous intents from those corrupted by them. Bunn and Crook continue to deliver in beautiful form a folklore-laden tale of transformation, betrayal, and fear. Oh, and skinless boy bodyguards. Gotta have those.
This issue, Bunn’s narrative captions do a lot more heavy lifting than merely injecting local jargon while establishing mood and Emmy’s condition, instead they steer the plot in a manner more reminiscent of oral storytelling tradition. It helps imbibe the essence folk mythology throughout, as though the unspeakable and unbelievable occurrences in the woods are being related after the fact as a tale of warning through the constant use of past tense. Who’s story is this? Emmy’s surely, but it’s also the story of the town and its people who committed that gnarly act that set these events in motion.
As dark as this issue is, both quite literally and metaphorically, Bunn still paints the opening pages as something of an adventure tale akin to Harry Potter as Emmy and Bernice face mysterious threats with a blend of trepidation and confidence. The horrors are real, but their intentions are not and at this point Emmy’s eye’s are beginning to open as to the real monsters hounding after her. It’s all about transformation, the centerpiece of which is Emmy’s unsettling acceptance of what she may be becoming melded with the bearing of her father’s unscrupulous decisions. Bunn balances the sense of adventure with the truly disturbing confrontation between Emmy and her father. It’s difficult to get through in the best way possible; a man in conflict with himself choosing the wrong way and young girl in a time of change fighting with every last ounce of who she was to stop from giving in to the darkness of her potential future. It’s all paced wonderfully with careful attention to building tension and structured to feel both intimately small and still vastly large in the potential of what’s still to come.
Unsurprisingly, Harrow County remains a visual marvel of texture and atmosphere. Tyler Crook absolutely delights in layering his watercolors to create this tactile experience of dread and wonder. As stated, this issue is dark. Long gone are the unsettling tranquility of the daylight scenes on the farm and we now find ourselves thoroughly entrenched in the course haunted woods. Nothing is lost heavy shadow however, and the degree to which Crook ensures that every broken capillary in a face and years of wear on every coat can be felt is impressive. While the watercolor certainly deserves its praise, his rendering this issue certainly stands out. The gamut of emotions that each character expresses is on full display with effective conveyance of all the confusion, shock and, most important, rage utilized to full effect. Crook’s lines are clean and confident, incorporated in a style of cartooning that is indelibly inviting with their rounded edges and varying densities to a point that belies the level of grotesquery he unleashes upon the reader. It’s a fun juxtaposition, one that ably adapts to the more adventurous tone or to the visceral horror at a moment’s notice.
The pace has certainly quickened and the slow burn of the first two issues is rapidly growing in intensity at the conclusion of this third issue. A chilling version of a coming-of-age tale combined with the rural folklore tradition of unbridled fear. It’s an inverted morality tale that more closely resembles the darker beginnings of Grimm’s tales than it does a scary campfire yarn and it’s all beautifully presented. Trust no one save the witch. Run. Try and fight back against what’s building inside you even when it seems that that is who you truly are. Don’t be afraid. Be terrified.