By Brendan F. Hodgdon. With Image having recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, there is an expanded sense of history to be found in its catalog of titles. For some time, Image’s history was mostly felt in the Top Cow universe and titles like Spawn and Savage Dragon as links back to its original founders. But multiple generations of creators have since contributed to the company’s rise and now, after a quarter of a century, there is more than one thread of legacy in the tapestry that is Image.

Two of those threads converge in Farmhand, the new series from writer/artist Rob Guillory, and interestingly enough, both threads relate to Guillory himself. As the artist of the acclaimed Image title Chew, Guillory shares credit on a notable Image book (with writer John Layman) that was one of the premiere creator-owned ongoing titles of its era. His work on that title helped expand the expectations of what an Image comic could be. And by fully taking the reins on Farmhand as a writer/artist, Guillory honors the origins of Image as a whole: artists setting out to tell their own stories without restrictions. Guillory has gone solo (with valuable work from Taylor Wells and Kody Chamberlain in support), cementing his own voice as an artist in the process.

Based on this debut issue, the lack of restriction suits Guillory nicely. This story, about a family that grows artificial body parts as crops and the return of their prodigal son, is certainly a unique one. Plus, the same weirdness and wit that defined Chew is alive and well, and used to great effect. While its pedigree alone might qualify Farmhand as a legacy Image title, its content lives up to the standard of its predecessors.

Farmhand #1Farmhand #1

Image Comics/$3.50

Created, written and drawn by Rob Guillory.

Colors by Taylor Wells.

Letters and logo by Kody Chamberlain.

Hello, Old Friend. If you liked Chew back in the day, you will find a lot to like in Farmhand. Guillory is still working in the same stylistic sandbox that was so successful before, and it serves as an ideal approach to the crazy premise of this new series. While one could easily imagine Farmhand a darker, grosser, Cronenbergian kind of story, Guillory’s tongue-in-cheek aesthetic works wonders here. The cartoonish vibe contrasts with the darker elements of the plot, and the resulting tension heightens the drama of Guillory’s story without detracting from the enjoyably ridiculous nature of the concept.

Furthermore, Guillory peppers each panel with little sight gags and throwaway jokes that poke fun at the absurdity of his world without completely undercutting its credibility. It’s a very dicey high-wire act that Guillory is attempting to pull off here tonally, but as this issue shows he brings a sense of balance to it. If he can keep the same even keel between the goofy and the twisted in future issues, he’ll be in great shape.

Farmhand

Interior page from ‘Farmhand’ #1. Art by Rob Guillory, Taylor Wells and Kody Chamberlain/Image Comics

Pretty Mystery Box. One angle of this issue that is more up in the air is the overall mystery at the heart of the story. Guillory hints at a lot here in the opening chapter regarding both the family’s past and the nature of the organ farm, but we aren’t given enough context for all of it to really hit home. Considering that this is a first issue that’s not completely unexpected, but the result does comes across as guarded. The careful sense of control that Guillory clearly has with tone is not quite as present when it comes to his mystery box — at least not yet.

Even if the story feels a bit too withholding, the scope of the world being hinted at more than makes up for it. The family’s lab/farm itself is positioned as this odd, unique thing in an otherwise average town, and is intriguing enough on its own. But it’s the details surrounding the farm, particularly regarding some suspicious visitors, that suggest a bigger, weirder world is waiting to be explored.

Farmhand

Interior page from ‘Farmhand’ #1. Art by Rob Guillory, Taylor Wells and Kody Chamberlain/Image Comics

People of the Land. Between the tone, the plot and the world are the characters, who serve as a great foundation for Farmhand to build upon. The core family (Zeke, his wife Mae, and kids Riley and Abigail) is written in very broad but relatable fashion; their give-and-take is a big part of the elastic tone of the issue, equal parts goofy and emotional. Meanwhile, Zeke’s rapport (or lack thereof) with his father Jed and sister Andy serves the more dramatic and plot-centric side of the story. Even with the book’s mysteries, the emotional aftermath of those mysteries is tangible. It feels real thanks to the handling of the characters.

The choice to make this family our point-of-view characters should give Guillory a lot of story options as Farmhand progresses. Inter-generational conflict and adventurous kids will lend the series an unpredictability that is entirely welcome, and until the story evolves into something more substantial, having characters like these as a grounding element is hugely beneficial to the series as a whole.

Farmhand, in the best tradition of Image Comics, is a singular piece of work from Rob Guillory. It reaffirms his artistic style while laying the groundwork for serious intrigue in the months ahead. It is always gratifying to see an artist get the chance to tell their story on their terms. As long as Image continues to give that chance to artists like Guillory, the brighter their future will be.

8 out of 10

‘Farmhand’ #1 hits stores July 11. You can find your LCS and pre-order it here.

Check out this seven-page preview of ‘Farmhand’ #1, courtesy of Image Comics!

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