Wednesday, 28 February 2018

THE CULT OF THE OBSCURE: Gideon Falls #1 by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino & Dave Stewart

By: Mark Ambrose

Title: Gideon Falls #1
Author: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Colors: Dave Stewart
Lettering: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics
Date Released: 07/03/2018

The Review:
Jeff Lemire has become Canada’s own modern equivalent of Alan Moore, albeit less cantankerous.  Splitting output between the big two (most notably on Marvel’s heralded “Moon Knight”) and independent publishers, the writer/artist has equal facility with reality grounded dramatic fare (the essential “Essex County” trilogy), vast sci-fi epics (“Descender”) and superheroes both mainstream and esoteric (his key work in the “Valiant Universe”).  With “Gideon Falls”, his newest creator-owned project at indie behemoth Image Comics, Lemire invokes the creeping dread of his best efforts to tell his first “all out” horror tale.
“Gideon Falls” splits its focus between two figures: Norton, a disturbingly devout acolyte, donned in a surgical mask, sorting through debris for some unknown purpose, and a priest, Father Wilfred.  Wilfred seems, at best, uninvested in his calling, pulling slugs from a flask as he drives to his new home and parish: “Gideon Falls”.  His predecessor, Father Tom, died under mysterious, possibly grisly circumstances, that his committed parishioner, Gene, doesn’t want to discuss.  Norton, meanwhile, expounds on the nature of evil with his therapist, Dr. Xu; he’s growing more convinced of the literal existence of the Devil.  The sympathetic, realistic doctor advises that his collection is mere garbage and a symptom of mental illness.  If Norton cannot reassert his hold on reality, she will institutionalize him… again.
Norton and Wilfred have converging experiences around the vision of a nightmarish location: the Black Barn.  Wilfred’s is quite visceral, while Norton’s is more tenuous – is he manifesting this dark locale?  Recalling an event already lived by the priest?  The timeline here is rather mysterious but that’s one of the best parts of a comic debut: what has already been mapped out by the team in question?  What will spiral out in the telling?  Lemire has been remarkably open in the past, responding in letters sections, enthusiastically pursuing new tangents in fictional universes (like his terror-tinged superhero story “Black Hammer”, or “Sweet Tooth” – which may be the final, underappreciated Vertigo masterpiece).  But for a first issue, “Gideon Falls” has a hell of a hook.

A great deal of the burden falls on artist Andrea Sorrentino, whose sketchy, scratchy linework conveys stress – mental and metaphysical, as the landscape around the Black Barn seems shattered.  Like fellow Canadian (and occasional collaborator) Matt Kindt, Lemire suffuses his stories with slow dread, punctuated by horrific, startling violence.  Sorrentino’s depiction of ritualistic violence on the page is shocking without hedging into schlocky splatter.  It makes me dread what could come in future installments.
Special mention should be made for colorist Dave Stewart, an industry unto himself.  He has been a lynchpin in Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy/B.P.R.D.” Universe, brought vivid, hallucinatory beauty to Moon & Ba’s “Daytripper”, and worked with master monster illustrator Eric Powell in his “Goon” series.  His work here evokes the great American flyover country, with muted earthtones, juxtaposed with dirty grays of Norton’s urban wasteland.  The charnel house reds splattered across the final pages are the work of a true master, and colorists will be studying at the feet of Stewart for decades to come.
In short, “Gideon Falls” is a great monthly comic to hop onto for SLUDGELOLRD acolytes.  Whether delving into Norton’s filthy urban decay or Father Wilfred’s profane, sacrilegious journey, this is a work that could be soundtracked to Godflesh or Sunn O))) – a droning, apocalyptic vision that could go anywhere, but will likely plumb into the darkest depths of human and demonic blasphemy.

“Gideon Falls #1” is available here