If you're a fan of horror, and a fan of comics, and you're NOT reading North 40 from DC's Wildstorm imprint, then you need to rectify the situation immediately. Very often, horror comics simply don't work because it's tough to generate the right atmosphere. Movies can nail it visually, and books can nail it in the written word, but for some reason it becomes a tougher task when you mesh the two elements. But North 40 nails it, and then some.
I've gotten through the first three issues of the six-part miniseries that have come out so far--actually, more like tore through them ravenously. Aaron Williams' writing, particularly from a dialogue-perspective, is utterly engrossing, and the meticulous artwork from Fiona Staples is appropriately moody and expressive. Staples is a particularly fine choice, as she has also done the Trick r' Treat comics adaptation, tentatively set for release next month.
The level of quality here is impressive, with a meshing of top-notch writing and art not seen in horror in recent years outside of the best work of Steve Niles. As good as Robert Kirkman's The Walking Dead can be at times, North 40 is a far superior work. Not only is Williams' writing more disciplined and tighter, but the artwork is in an entirely different league altogether. Marvel's recent Dead of Night miniseries featuring Man-Thing came close, but didn't pack this much punch. The recent Evil Dead series was a snooze-fest. And don't get me started on the George Romero abortion, Toe-Tags...
North 40 tells the story of a Lovecraftian terror (seems to be quite popular these days, doesn't it?) unleashed in a small redneck town. But there are a few drastic departures from your typical Cthulhu-inspired shenanigans here. For one thing, Williams takes the action out of snooty New England and deposits it in Midwestern Conover County, a place of trailer parks, greasy spoons and good ol' boys.
In Williams' tale, two bored teens unwittingly release the terror by reading from an ancient tome found in the library (ain't it always the way?). Everyone in the county falls unconscious, and when they come to the following day, the whole town seems to have been turned into bizarre monsters, with just a handful of townspeople instead bestowed with different super powers to help them combat the monsters. In this way, the book becomes an interesting hybrid of horror and superhero comic genres.
This is also where another of the book's strong points comes into play: The characters, all vividly created and completely engaging. Robert and Dyan, the slackers who start the whole mess; "good girl" Jenny, reborn as queen of the zombies; the attitudinal Amanda, recruited by a mysterious benevolent crone to be the town's resident good witch; Luanne, who gains powerful telepathic abilities from the incident; Wyatt, who basically becomes Superman thanks to it; and the badass, cantankerous Sheriff, my personal favorite. And then there's that terrific narrator--I could almost hear the voice of Sam Elliott in my head...
If I could nitpick anything at all with this book, it would be that occasionally a bit of confusion arises as Williams shifts from one scene to another--with so many characters doing so many different things in so many different places, it can sometimes get a bit unwieldy. But this is a minor quibble, as Williams' writing is also the book's prime selling point.
I'll be looking forward eagerly to future issues of North 40, and I encourage you to get on board as well. It may not be getting all the hype of some of the other less deserving titles, but this is one quality horror comic well worth looking for.
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