THIS REVIEW OF ‘STEEPLE’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Jarrod Jones. There are grim goings-on in the quiet sea-side hamlet of Tredregyn, the sort of which cause outsiders to perpetuate old legends and proliferate a few new ones. It’s not like North Cornwall is wanting for folklore; dark tales of Satanic pacts and taloned beasts haunting Bodmin have spooked folks for generations. But what’s transpired here of late, what we’re about to discover, will only further push Tredregyn away from the outside world and towards its own legendary end.
And so we have Steeple, the first post-Giant Days work by author John Allison, a wonderfully blasphemous concoction of faith, duty and sacrifice, Hellblazer with a proper kitchen sink sensibility. (John Allison scripting John Constantine—now there’s a thought.) Steeple is darker material from Allison, populated by forbidding moments, ancient secrets and monstrous dangers, but there’s scads of the writer’s patented wit and charm, too. Steeple at its core is a supernatural spook show that is as much about punching demons and pounding pints as it is about finding absolution deep within the chasm that lies between conflicting ideologies.
There’s our point-of-focus character, Billie Baker, the latest in a long line of curates for the beleaguered (and, we later find out, besieged) Reverend Penrose, wrapped in her cozy knitted sweater and powered by a righteous sense of parochial duty. She’s eager, young and quite out of the loop, if not a little out of her depth. Billie’s the perfect foil for local Satanist bartender Maggie Warren—or at least she would be were Steeple another kind of story, a lesser version of itself eager to pit such characters at odds with one another. Instead, Billie and Maggie have a meet-cute on the side of a road leading into Tredregyn just after Billie’s car decides to up and catch fire. (A grim omen? Serendipity? Future issues will tell.)
Saints and sinners, sharing a pint—oh, how the elders will blush. Esther de Groot would approve.
Allison wants us to settle into Tredregyn, grasp its internal politics and existential fears of economic decline (it’s a summer tourist trap and an autumnal ghost town), before unleashing weird soulless beasts to run amok across his pages. So we spend a bit getting to know the townies, finding the way to the town’s only good pub (the other one is a bit stabby), and ultimately learning a few surprising things about what the Diocese didn’t tell Billie before seemingly tossing her headlong into danger.
Yeah. Steeple isn’t a “righteous versus the profane” giggle. It has more on its mind than that. Here, The Church of England is strictly upper management, aloof, distant from the severe worries of the battered and weary Penrose. (And the church’s distance has taken its toll: there’s a panel of the Reverend attempting sleep after a long night’s watch, bruised, broken, fighting other sorts of demons in his dreams, holding on with clenched fists as a sign overhead bellows “GOD IS NEAR”. It’s a striking moment.) The town’s rectory is a chilly place, populated also by the caretaker Mrs. Clovis, who, after years of service in Penrose’s grim campaign against the town’s darkness, has developed an innate hostility that Billie can scarcely navigate.
Inversely, there’s Tredregyn’s very own Church of Statan, where our silver-maned Maggie does dwell. Like Maggie’s part-time gig at Victoria’s Pub, the innards of the church are warm—cozy, even—with scarlet hues provided by candlelight and the shrewd applications of color by Sarah Stern. Stern’s aware of these disparities between the churches, theological and otherwise, and digitally paints these locations accordingly. If you’re looking to explore the themes of Steeple, the visual language is just as potent as Allison’s reliably mordacious dialogue and character work.
Tredregyn and its inhabitants feel real, like Susan, Daisy, and Esther felt real in Giant Days, a natural development considering the book’s creative team. (Reading John Allison without Jim Campbell at the lettering helm would be tantamount to a betrayal.) I want to know how Penrose’s nightly battles to keep the sea’s demons at bay has influenced the local populace, and whether or not Maggie’s fellow lasagna-eating Satanists recognize their nightly pints at the pub might be owed to his sacrifices. I want to explore Tredregyn even further because of the questions it raises about faith and how it impacts what we’re willing to do in the name of duty, especially when it means forsaking our fellow man. Because the boundaries of our beliefs erode when our mutual survival is at stake… right?
Consider Steeple a catechism for the theological middle ground. I will.
Dark Horse Comics / $3.99
Script and art by John Allison.
Colors by Sarah Stern.
Letters by Jim Campbell.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Steeple’ #1, featuring a variant cover by Max Sarin, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics!