Harrow County: Countless Haints (2015)

Harrow County Volume 1: Countless Haints

Cullen Bunn really likes half-heard whispers. I mean, Harrow County itself is a half-heard whisper, if only because Bunn is making sure the other half of the whispers are completely inaudible. The reader goes into the story with more information than the protagonist, but neither has enough. And Bunn takes his time getting around to revealing it. One of the most effective things about this collection is how Bunn handles all the revelations.

When the book starts, he introduces the reader to protagonist Emmy. She lives on a farm in sometime in the indistinct, probably pre-WII past–automobiles but not everyone had electricity so maybe the twenties or thirties. It doesn’t matter because Emmy lives on the farm and doesn’t have much contact with the outside world. Just a weekly visit from a salesman and his daughter, who’s about Emmy’s age. They’re black, however, which Bunn uses to throw suspicion on Emmy’s father (either we aren’t supposed to like him because he’s racist or we aren’t supposed to like him because he’s suspicious).

Emmy sits in contemplation
Emmy sits in contemplation

Bunn does a fabulous job setting up the first issue because there’s no hint where the story is actually going. He still hasn’t given anyone–not Emmy, not the reader–enough information. When he does get around to doling it out, he reveals it at a pace to get up the reader’s expectations for upcoming scenes. It’s effective. Harrow County is an effective, well-structured comic book. Just because it has a cute little calf doesn’t mean it’s not a serious book.

Tyler Crook’s art is an essential, just because he handles Emmy’s innocence and determination so well. Her character has to develop through the collection while getting in dutch with the reader. Bunn gives her a lot of defining stuff real early on because the eventually Harrow County slows down a lot and goes scene-to-scene. Crook is able to speed up and slow down as needed. His establishing panels, utilizing foreground and background focus, are phenomenal. Crook handles the passage of time better than Bunn; whenever Bunn does it, there’s immediately a stronger reinforcement from Crook. It makes the book a bit of a treat to read, once it’s established, because of the way they’re able to deal with the events and the players. Harrow County doesn’t have any laughs, but it does have its humor.

Emmy and Bernice in trouble.
Emmy and Bernice in trouble.

And while Emmy’s the lead, Bunn’s narration is instead a close third person. Even though the narration doesn’t do any information dumps to get the reader caught up, it direct the reader’s attention. The story is about Emmy, Emmy is the protagonist (it’ll be interesting to see how Bunn handles Emmy being more active with this approach to narration), and the reader is sort of along for the ride. There’s a folk tale element to it all, with Emmy being the one who realizes the world’s not a folk tale.

As a first collection, Harrow County is a standout. It establishes its characters, quickly defines its setting, quickly defines its dangers, makes promises about what’s to come, plants expectations in the reader’s mind, has some great art. It even has an out of left field cliffhanger, but also one completely in line with the world Bunn and Crook set up. It’s interesting as the separate issues don’t have the same kind of cliffhanger–Bunn knows how to keep the reader interested. Not even guessing, just interested. And it works because Emmy’s such a strong character.

Emmy's protector keeps lookout.
Emmy’s protector keeps lookout.

With the exception of forcing the reader to make judgment calls on characters (one time), Bunn’s writing is excellent. Even when he goes on too long with the narration, it pays off because of the art. Crook creates a terrifying, but acceptable vision. The boy without skin and skin without boy who end up as Emmy’s sidekicks–oh, forgot to mention, she’s a reincarnated witch who’s trying real hard not to be bad–they ought to be too disturbing, but Crook makes them somewhat adorable. Even if they are dangerous (possibly to Emmy).

Like I said, it’s a standout. Harrow County sets a high bar for itself.

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist, Tyler Crook; editors, Ian Tucker and Daniel Chabon; publisher, Dark Horse Comics.

Godzilla: Cataclysm 1 (August 2014)

Godzilla: Cataclysm #1

I wanted Godzilla: Cataclysm to be good. Not before I started reading it, but as I read the first few pages where writer Cullen Bunn sets it all up. It’s got an intriguing ground situation–after the monster war, humans have to make do in their wrecked world. So it’s post-apocalyptic but not futuristic.

And there’s no attempt at explaining the monsters.

Dave Wachter’s monster art is decent too. Giant monsters fighting, lots of detail in the panels. It’s good stuff.

Then the issue gets going and it gets worse and worse as it goes along. Like Bunn not establishing characters; characters need to be interesting even if giant bugs don’t attack them. The bugs would’ve been an adequate menace for the issue, but Bunn can’t help upping it.

Only Wachter doesn’t want to up his game–instead of detail, he does huge sound lettering as backgrounds.

Cataclysm indeed.

C- 

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist, Dave Wachter; letterer, Chris Mowry; editor, Bobby Curnow; publisher, IDW Publishing.

The Empty Man 1 (June 2014)

The Empty Man #1

There's an air of not-so-quiet desperation about The Empty Man, like writer Cullen Bunn is sitting in the front row of a class with his hand up, practically leaping out of his seat, trying to get the attention of the great Hollywood gods who can option his new comic and turn it into a TV show.

Only, like most desperate people, he's forgotten to be original and is instead recycling already existing media properties for most of the comic.

There's something of a prologue–or two–before the main characters appear. They're FBI agents and are in a world of dark magic where evil spirits (or one) roam the real world. They have terrible chemistry too. Bunn tries too hard with everything, ending on a weak hard cliffhanger.

Vanesa R. Del Rey has a distinct style and I love she modeled one character on Clark Gable. But it's far from enough.

C 

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist, Vanesa R. Del Rey; colorist, Michael Garland; letterer, Ed Dukeshire; editors, Chris Rosa and Eric Harburn; publisher, Boom! Studios.

Sinestro 1 (June 2014)

Sinestro #1

You know, Dale Eaglesham does do a great job on Sinestro. I wouldn’t subject my brain to another issue of this prattling, but Eaglesham’s art is really good.

Writer Cullen Bunn has the task of bringing Sinestro back from a self-imposed exile. For all the endless expository narration from Sinestro, I’m unclear why exactly he’s in exile. It’s kind of hard to care too, because Bunn doesn’t make him a particularly interesting lead. He fights lions or tigers, talks to some inexplicably scantily clad lady with writing on her and then they go off and have a space adventure.

Apparently the comic’s supposed to be engaging because Sinestro’s an anti-hero–he only saves people of his planet from being killed, not the other people he could also save.

So he’s a bastard, who cares? Maybe if Bunn put him in an interesting situation, but he doesn’t.

It’s tripe.

D 

CREDITS

Blackest Day, Brightest Night; writer, Cullen Bunn; artist, Dale Eaglesham; colorist, Jason Wright; letterer, Dezi Sienty; editors, Chris D. Conroy and Matt Idelson; publisher, DC Comics.

Captain America and Black Widow 640 (February 2013)

887778

It’s another all action issue–there’s some talking heads for the planning and the various plot twists, but it’s an action issue. A bunch of slightly different superheroes–the Black Knight has a magical chainsaw and Venom can pilot a spaceship and Ghost Rider’s techy–attack some slightly different other superheroes who are now bad. Human Torch is a burning skeleton, I think.

It’s all confusing but very nicely illustrated. Francavilla has a great time with the battle scenes.

Otherwise, Black Widow gets the most important scenes. Cap gets none. His promise to the lizard people gets a summarized follow up. The multiverse thing gets even sillier.

Bunn fails at the one duplicate of the bad lady he needs to get right. The other one he does in this issue, he does well. But not the important one.

It’s not a success, it’s mildly disappointing, but at least it’s competent.

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, Jake Thomas and Lauren Sankovitch; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America and Black Widow 639 (January 2013)

884584

Apparently, in some realities, Captain America is a dick. Bunn gets how to write Steve’s honesty and morality. It helps here, but doesn’t fit with Bunn’s style otherwise.

I also didn’t get the guy in the Doc Ock arms was the Lizard. My bad. I just thought it was some creature. But no, it’s Curt Connors and he’s not too terrible a guy in this alternate reality.

Decent art from Francavilla. It’s mostly talking heads. The alternate Black Widow talks at length (as usual) about the multiverse. The big action is in the background or in extreme close up, so Francavilla never really shines . I guess I’ve gotten used to how he does the close up conversations.

Bunn giving Steve a promise to help people in the garbage planet dimension makes the comic immediately more interesting. Of course he’s getting home, but will he be able to keep the promise.

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, John Denning and Lauren Sankovitch; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America and Black Widow 638 (December 2012)

Captain America and Black Widow Vol 1 638

You can tell the Black Widows apart by their belts. I hadn’t realized that detail. My bad.

Once again the Francavilla art is good. He’s stronger on the distance shots than he is during the close ups. Not to knock him–he’s good all the time but there are a couple fantastic long shot panels this issue.

It’s another all action issue. It takes place over twenty or so minutes, approximately five times longer than it takes to read the comic.

There’s a tiny bit with the bad lady and her duplicates. The scene features Bunn’s best writing. He’s not good for the existing character stuff. He needs to be generative, not repackaging Steve and Natasha exposition. The other best writing bit, for example, is the two Black Widows talking. The bad one’s much more compelling.

It’s a technically competent issue; it’s a waste of time in the important ways.

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Cort Petit; editors, Jake Thomas and Lauren Sankovitch; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America and Black Widow 637 (November 2012)

877081

Clearly I haven’t been reading Marvel comics for a while. Since when do they talk about a multiverse like it’s early eighties DC and what’s the deal with the big tripod monsters?

Confusion aside, it’s a fairly good issue. Bunn’s plot twist is somewhat unexpected–supervillain arms dealer only employs her multiverse selves; there’s none of the cool different back stories this issue, which is too bad.

Instead, Bunn and Francavilla do an action issue with some occasional confusing talking bits. There are two Black Widows and it’s unclear who is who… But it doesn’t really matter, since the issue moves so fast.

As far as the writing, Bunn’s got Steve telling a proctologist joke. It’s an odd moment, making one wonder if Steve’s really a multiverse double too. It’s not good banter for him.

It’s an interesting misfire–way too heavy on the dystopian sci-fi–with nice art

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, Jake Thomas and Lauren Sankovitch; publisher, Marvel Comics.

Captain America and Black Widow 636 (November 2012)

877086

I like Francesco Francavilla. He’s a little awkward with Captain America out on a mission and the superhero stuff, but he makes the talking heads interesting and he’s got a great rendering of Central Park at the open.

As for Cullen Bunn? He has a similar problem. The issue’s perfectly well-written, somewhat confounding stuff about an arms dealer seemingly with clones. Except all these clones have different memories, which Bunn covers in the narration. There’s a great bit with Hawkeye complaining about different dimensions.

But Bunn’s Steve Rogers lacks personality. He plays off people–Hawkeye, Iron Man, the bad arms dealer lady. Even when there’s a good line–Captain America liking Sizzler–it passes quickly. Does Steve Rogers really like Sizzler? There are Sizzlers in Brooklyn?

Bunn can probably get away with it, since the story’s intriguing (and he writes Black Widow well) but it’s unfortunate Steve’s so vapid.

CREDITS

Writer, Cullen Bunn; artist and colorist, Francesco Francavilla; letterer, Joe Caramagna; editors, Jake Thomas and Lauren Sankovitch; publisher, Marvel Comics.

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