THIS ADVANCE DOOMROCKET REVIEW OF BONE ORCHARD: PASSAGEWAY IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Kate Kowalski. When you think of a lighthouse, what do you see? Maybe you picture a cheery postcard, painting, or a sweet ceramic knick-knack in your aunt’s glass cabinet. Or maybe you envision a solo, crumbling structure amidst a desolate seascape. How you consider a lighthouse might be a fair litmus test of how hopeful, cynical, or into horror you might be. A lighthouse on the edge of the world can be the perfect setting for some classic horror elements—isolation, a sense of being trapped or cornered, and humanity’s ever-continuing yet somehow fruitless attempt to tame or illuminate the unknowable forces behind nature.
Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Bone Orchard: The Passageway embodies all of these elements and utilizes its eerie lighthouse setting to the fullest, much like Robert Eggers’ titular 2019 film The Lighthouse. Both stories take place on an island, bleak and gray, cut off from the rest of the world. Both stories are character-driven, psychological, and intense. But while The Lighthouse alludes to some eldritch-type horrors, The Passageway guarantees it.
We are ferried to this doomed locale with our seasick and water-fearing protagonist, John. He’s a geologist on a job, called out to examine an abnormality. Upon arrival, he meets Sal, the gruff but seemingly friendly-enough lighthouse keeper who ushers John to the site: an utterly bottomless, perfectly circular hole pierced right through the middle of the island.
From the get-go, we can see something supernatural is afoot. John does not come unburdened; his childhood trauma is splashed on the page before us in an emotional flashback. It is no coincidence he has come here. Something is beckoning him, to wherever this hole may descend. From the first page, a reckoning feels inevitable.
A horror comic can’t really use jump scares (certainly not in the way film can—though one startling page in The Passageway threatens this hypothesis). The fear must be relayed to us through story beats and visual tone. This book is persistent through both story and art in its all-consuming uneasiness and dread. We have the common telltale horror story elements of an unreliable narrator and a story punctuated with well-timed flashbacks. The art is at once expressionistic and meticulously crafted, pleasing to the eye but loaded with gruesome imagery.
Sorrentino patterns and echoes visual motifs through the story, each page haunted with reminders of what’s to come. The lighthouse looms behind panels and sinister birds circle between past and present moments in an almost collage style. Once we see the hole for the first time, we are shown that perfect circle again and again in devices and dinner plates, even in the panel shapes themselves. Dave Stewart does a fantastic job with coloring, maintaining the despair through washed-out tones and being precise and strategic with any punch of color. The overall effect is ominous; we know the exact timbre of this tale and where it is headed.
The Passageway is intended to be just the beginning of larger mythology. This book dangles much in front of us—figures, characters, backstories that Lemire and Sorrentino say will make reappearances in future installments. In this first installment we are just creaking the door and seeing a sliver. The Passageway is enticing, teasing just enough to hint at the depth of what lies beyond. For now, there is a horror of the unknown and an allure to the largely unseen forces in this universe. With such a strong opening and such heavyweights as Lemire and Sorrentino at the helm, I think it’s well worth getting caught in the glow, letting ourselves be guided in for the journey ahead.
Image Comics / $17.99
Written by Jeff Lemire.
Art by Andrea Sorrentino.
Colors by Dave Stewart.
Letters by Steve Wands.
Bone Orchard: Passageway HC drops June 15. For purchasing information, click this.