By Courtney Ryan. In 2013, DC launched its New 52 initiative, hoping to revive its superhero universe and rekindle some of the curiosity that had been lost for a few long-forgotten characters. Unfortunately, the Green Arrow refresh had been a dull burn, yielding few new readers and disappointing the mythical archer’s longtime fans. By issue #17, the series had already wrestled with four different writers and was barely limping along when a new creative team entered the fold and infused the story with the palpable grit and brutality the series sorely needed.
That story, “The Kill Machine”, transformed Green Arrow into an evocative mystery, where thrills emerged from the shadows. This new arc impressed critics and pacified cynical readers who were on the brink of deserting. After a satisfying conclusion, it remains among the fan favorites from Green Arrow’s nearly 80-year history.
That exceptional creative team was comprised of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino, who teamed up again three years later to deliver a successful run for Marvel’s Old Man Logan series, which followed the aged X-Man through a villainous post-apocalyptic future. Lemire and Sorrentino once again managed to artfully blend their instincts to draw characters hunted by despair and cruelty, achieving a story that felt both fresh for Logan/Wolverine and unique to this particular duo.
And that duo has come back, this time for Image Comics and with a completely original tale and cast of characters. Can lightning strike a third time?
Written by Jeff Lemire.
Art by Andrea Sorrentino.
Colors by Dave Stewart.
Letters by Steve Wands.
A moody and enthralling mystery. This supernatural horror story begins with a masked man, who is either driven by madness or divine intuition as he digs through an urban landscape collecting trash. Somewhere far away from the city, a failed and doubtful Catholic priest reluctantly inches toward a new flock that’s located in a secretive rural town. The priest, Fred, is replacing Father Tom, who died under mysterious circumstances. The trash collector, Norton, can’t shake the uneasy suspicion that his inclination toward rubbish has nothing to do with his confirmed mental illness.
Clearly there is a murky connection between these two individuals, but what that connection is — or where it originates from — remains nebulous.
From its outset, nothing in Gideon Falls feels remotely balanced or secure. None of the characters are trustworthy, at least not yet, and the eerie atmosphere draws shadows from both urban and rural horror lore, leaving an unsettling impression that there is truly nowhere left to run. The Judeo-Christian concept of evil is present throughout, hanging over every thought, action, and feeling. What’s absent is salvation, evil’s great counterpart, which adds heavy power to the story’s bleakness. What, then, is a world where only evil reigns?
Jeff Lemire is in ascension mode. Few comic auteurs have the ability to improve and surprise with each creative outing the way that Lemire has. In his deviously short career he has managed to approach the mundanity and disappointment of daily life with the same rich tapestry of emotions that he presents in horror and action stories. Along with his masterful outings for DC and Marvel, he has produced some of the most memorable and demonstrably indie works, including the Essex County Trilogy. That he can so capably cover such different and vast ground has made him one of the most reliable storytellers in comics.
In Gideon Falls, Lemire impresses by creating a mystery that’s perplexing without being too convoluted, something difficult to accomplish in a first issue. The characters here are aloof and cold, yet there’s a familiarity to their wayward journeys that sparks a strain of dread as the story goes along. Free from exposition, the characters appear armed only with the necessary particulars needed to present the very moment they exist within. Little is said but much is communicated and what goes unmentioned often hangs from panel to panel, threaded to our own fears and concerns about what happens when the world turns completely upside-down.
Artwork induces as many gasps as the story. Andrea Sorrentino’s atmospheric artwork is crucial to pulling this story off and if you’ve followed the Italian artist’s career at all, it won’t surprise you that he more than delivers (his New 52 run for DC’s I, Vampire is especially splendid). How he manages to make each panel in Gideon Falls appear as if it is dripping with heavy ink yet also feel so light that speaking aloud might disturb the peaceful layout is beyond me. But Sorrentino capture’s the silent, unsettling tension haunting Lemire’s story with an uncanny ability to immerse the reader in its mood.
Adding to Sorrentino’s exceptional work are Dave Stewart’s chilling colors, which pour across the eerie imagery and capture the foreboding sense of dread. The muted tones creep from page to page, occasionally popping into bolder color as if a sudden sound has cracked out loud amid the silence. It’s hard to shake the feeling that something is hiding in plain sight.
Given the history of this creative team, there is a lot of hype surrounding Gideon Falls, especially since this is a completely original output. What makes this issue such a positive debut, though, isn’t that Lemire and Sorrentino measure up to previous works—though they certainly do. It’s simply that the final panel comes too quickly and the next issue feels too far away. Lemire and Sorrentino succeed in building instant and improbable anticipation for the next issue of Gideon Falls despite the greatness of prior works hanging over their heads. That’s the mark of a truly promising series — and an incredible team.
9 out of 10
‘Gideon Falls’ #1 hits stores on March 7.