THIS REVIEW OF ‘MOUNTAINHEAD’ #1 (of 5) CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. Mountainhead, we’re told in opening pages, is a madness brought on by spending too much time in elevated locations, balancing a precipice of survival and demise. People constantly one wrong step, one bad decision, from death tend to succumb to stress and lose touch with sanity. It’s a cousin to prairie fever of the 19th Century, a fast-developing mania mixed from a cocktail of depression, harsh environs, and isolation experienced by homesteaders settling western portions of the U.S. and the Canadian prairies.
Humans are social creatures. Locked in a struggle for survival, even alongside mates and children as those pioneers were, left them deprived of sufficient contact with their fellow creatures. Our world today certainly could have no similarities. Our nearest neighbors are closer than ten miles away. Labor’s lessened by modern farm equipment. One bad crop doesn’t mean starvation over the winter. Even for the rural modern resident, social media has brought “neighbors” one keystroke distant. Skype, message, email, chat… the options to interact have never been more abundant.
Unless someone chooses to remain isolated for their own imagined safety. An internal battle to find comfort in social landscape versus engrained paranoia against surrendering identity is waged by the young protagonist of Mountainhead #1. John Lees attunes us empathically to the lives of several characters, most notably Abraham Stubbs.
Abraham is a teen whose father, Noah, keeps them living in orchestrated obscurity. They support themselves as burglars, and Noah’s manifesto regarding people and their stuff has been drilled into Abraham since he was a baby. Noah believes the government, the rich, the powerful, and all who comprise a conspiratorial ‘They’, work against the common citizen. Comfort and safety are lures. Jobs, acquired goods, associations, responsibilities become chains meant to subdue those without ‘They’ membership cards. Homogenization of a person’s identity is ‘Their’ ultimate goal, and anyone who stands apart as an individual is an enemy.
Lees seeds the manifesto with enough truth to create a degree of realism. A child reared on such logic would find abandoning it difficult. Abraham as no reason to doubt his father, the man who has stolen to provide for them and taught his son the burglar trade as well. However, like all young adults, Abraham has moments of uncertainty.
On one B&E, the reader sees Abraham basking in the room of a youth. He takes stock of the games and possessions and lingers over a family portrait. Living out of a bag, moving constantly from one cheap motel room to next, may be Noah’s idea of staying free. His son is clearly more wavering, groping to leave childhood behind and become his own person.
Then Lees enacts a narrative twist that overturns their already uneven world. How would Abraham react if he suddenly had all those things he’s daydreamed about? His final situation this issue finds the young man armed with a fork, mountainhead-bound.
Lees expertly crafts realistic characters and peoples a well-paced story with them. His genuine talent is inferring more than he imparts outright. Here, he uses it effectively to set events into motion and keep them progressing. It’s a dynamic that keeps a quiet tale with few action scenes intriguing.
The art style of Ryan Lee may seem an odd fit for this story. It’s a ruse. No, it’s not the typical route one might go when illustrating this sort of script. But it’s appropriate in keeping the reader off balance, wavering slightly, a mirror to Abraham’s reservations regarding freedom from society’s clutches. Ryan Lee never allows full comfort; not for us, and certainly not for the protagonist.
Shawn Lee maintains an informal font in his lettering, suited to personal conversations and the issue has many. Then he jars using creative, impacting styles to emphasize sounds intruding on the talk. Howling dogs and projectile hurling are stark and haunting when paired with accompanying depictions. The contrasts are turn signals for plot bypasses from the expected.
Doug Garbark mutes his colors when Noah and Abraham confine themselves to shadowy pursuits, brightens them slightly when more positive avenues appear, then plunges back darker as truths are questioned. When characters poise to stray from murk into a brighter reality, Garbark makes it plain: The ill-lit environs aren’t quite finished with them.
The path Abraham’s on is never more uncertain than at issue’s end. It’s a notable way to pace the story presented so far. Lees will also leave you pondering how much of ourselves we’ve invested in defining our identity, and how much we’ve lazily allowed our possessions to fill in the blanks. The examination makes Mountainhead #1 a worthy addition to comics without capes and it earns our attention.
IDW Publishing / $3.99
Written by John Lees.
Art by Ryan Lee.
Colors by Doug Garbark.
Letters by Shawn Lee.
7.5 out of 10
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Mountainhead’ #1, including a variant covery by Ryan Stegman & Ryan Lee, courtesy of IDW Publishing!