New To You Comics: Exploring Obsession, Mental Illness, And Faith In ‘Gideon Falls’ Vol. 1

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Not always. Sometimes. Okay. Twice. It happened twice.

This week, the guys will be looking at Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls, from Image Comics. (Apparently Tony had, in fact, read this one before. This has never happened before. We’ll let it slide this once.)

Here’s what the publisher has to say about Gideon Falls Volume 1: The Black Barn:

‘From the bestselling creative team behind Old Man Logan and Green Arrow comes a character-driven meditation on obsession, mental illness, and faith. The legend of the Black Barn—an otherworldly building alleged to have appeared and reappeared throughout history, bringing death and madness in its wake—ensnares and entwines the lives of two very different men.’

Brendan: A paranoid conspiracy theorist in the middle of the big city. An embattled priest in the middle of nowhere. Our man Norton’s fighting to keep his freedom, having been recently released from a psychiatric program. Father Fred was settling into a stable, if boring, existence at seminary before being reassigned to the recently vacated post in Gideon Falls. 

Two characters that seemingly have little in common, in settings that couldn’t be more opposite. No clue how they relate to each other until the very last page. Murder and conspiracies and haunted architecture. What did you think?

Tony: I read this volume as it came out and it was entirely based on their work together at the Big Two- Green Arrow and Wolverine. They really did such cool things with both characters that this was a must-buy and boy did I not know what I was in for! 

Really, on the re-read, it’s just as tense, nerve wracking and scary. This is probably one of the best examples of supernatural horror to come out of comics in years. When we talked about Locke & Key back in October, we talked about how it evokes a lot of the same feelings as Stephen King, and I think this book does too. It’s a small intimate story about two people, but it’s also grand and epic.

And it all goes back to that damn barn. 

Brendan: Jeff Lemire has a gift for engaging readers. He sets up some interesting pieces right out of the chute. The dual protagonists are both deeply flawed and interesting. They run parallel courses through most of this first arc, and as the art suggests in a few places, are almost mirrored opposites. At some point, their paths will converge, and there’s no telling what will happen then.

Tony: I remember at one point when I originally read the story wondering if Norton and Father Fred were the same people at different points in their life. The story debunks that pretty quickly, but their parallels were a big part of the story for me. It was definitely important to understanding them.

Brendan: Right? There are all those little commonalities between them, and it’s obviously more than coincidence, but the big reveal comes down to the very last page of this volume, down there in the corner. Blink and you’ll miss it. But damn, it all falls into place for the next arc. I mean, it falls into place for a minute, and then you get dragged all over the place as it implodes again and again. But for a split second, you have an ‘Aha!’ moment. 

There were half a dozen times when I was reviewing this series where I said something like “I have no idea what the hell is going on, and I love it.”

Tony: Oh absolutely. In that sixth issue in particular, there’s where you start to see it. It’s going to be surreal and it’s going to be scary. It’s an example of the horror being in the mundane. A barn by itself isn’t scary, but the legends around it and its sudden, sinister presence… It’s a wonderfully told story, and it’s incredibly scary the whole time.

Brendan: The art is something else in this one. Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino are obviously very comfortable working together. There are several places where Lemire pulls out ahead of the art, and then hangs back for Sorrentino to take the lead. I absolutely love it when that level of trust exists between creators. 

Sorrentino’s linework is beautifully unsettling and evolves with the script. He plays around quite a bit with layouts, panels, and gutters, adding additional layers to the story. When Father Fred’s life seems mostly put together, his panels are mostly square, ordered. Norton’s are all over the place. As the Padre’s life starts crumbling around him, his panels and gutters get all wonky and torqued and start resembling Norton’s.

Tony: I really like that there basically isn’t a single “standard” layout in the entire book. This book is meant to be unsettling and Sorrentino just embraces that. There’s nothing standard, nothing conventional. The characters feel so real not just in their design but because Sorrentino makes sure that we’re as confused and disoriented as they are.

 

 

Brendan: Will Dennis, the series editor, mentioned the crazy layouts and spreads in a panel at NYCC 2018. He said something like, ‘We don’t exactly have control over what Andrea does. No one tells him to draw one thousand tiny unique panels on a single page. They just show up that way.’ (HEAVILY paraphrased.)

Tony: That makes sense to me. It’s just so good. The characters, the scares, the reveals… The page turn where we learn the fate of the kindly church lady who greeted Fred was just such an effective use of comics as an art form. He’s great.

Brendan: Dave Stewart’s colors lend continuity between the two main threads, while simultaneously keeping their identities distinct. Norton’s palette is not quite trash polka, there are some colors, but it’s predominantly washed out grays, with intermittent splashes of bright red. Father Fred gets the muted browns and yellows of dried up farmlands. 

Tony: This book is just like The Autumnlands last week, where the colors are in such a lock step with the line-art that you might think it’s all one artist. Stewart’s colors are fantastic, and totally essential to the story. The bright splashes of red are so effective because of how he colors everything else, and creates a specific mood throughout.

Seriously, just what a great book.

Brendan: You’ve already tipped your hand, but just for the record, what’s your final verdict on Gideon Falls Vol. 1- The Black Barn?

Tony: SERIOUSLY I WAS SO SPOOKED. This is a book that I will recommend whenever possible. Just incredible stuff.

Brendan: It really is. There are very few books that reach ‘instant classic’ status, and I believe this is one of them. People will be talking about Gideon Falls as a standard of horror comics for a very long time. 

Tony: Next week we’re going to talk about a different sort of mutants than I’ve usually brought you. And some dude dressed up like a bat. We’re going to look at the IDW/DC crossover, Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, by James Tynion IV and Freddie E Williams II!

Brendan: That’s another one that’s actually physically been sitting on my bookshelf for some time, but I have never cracked open. Looking forward to it. Two of my favorite franchises, and those IDW crossovers are usually really, really good. We should pull in our resident TMNT expert, Scott Redmond, on that one.

Tony: Agreed, Scott is going to join us on this one. It’s going to be fun.

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