Harrow County #16 isn’t what you think it is. According to contemporary comic narrative structure, this issue should be the climax of the arc. This should be the part of the story which settles all of the recent questions brought up in that past couple issues, while also possibly settling some of the major questions which have plagued the series since it’s beginning. But it doesn’t do that. It doesn’t give you the answers you want. Instead, it continues to build, aiming high to make something that doesn’t fit the normal five issue arc. Depending on how you read it, it could be a sub-par conclusion or an interesting end to a long introduction. When most of us start reading a series, we expect there to be a structure we are familiar with. Four to six issues should be a complete storyline. These issues should contain a beginning, middle, and an end. And these issues should answer a few questions. From its onset, Harrow County has denied us this sense of knowing. Subjects like The Abandoned, Emmy’s magical limitations, even the history of Harrow County itself still remain, for the most part, unknown. Writer Cullen Bunn keeps all of these details smoldering under his hat, occasionally letting us catch a whiff of what they might be. For the most part, this has worked well, with the lingering mysteries at the heart of the series bringing readers back issue by issue. However, in this issue, and the few issues preceding it, the lack of answers makes the narrative come across a little uneven. Small Spoilers Ahead.
As I said earlier, this comic felt like it was supposed to be a climax. This most recent arc has been centered around Emmy’s “true family.” They have all come together to discuss Emmy’s future and by extension the future of Harrow County. When to tell Emmy that they have decided to destroy Harrow and all of its inhabitants, it becomes clear that this was their endgame. This is the moment when Emmy must defeat them or join them. I was a little-taken aback by the idea that these new characters would be leaving so soon. I really enjoyed these characters, all of whom are compelling and have interesting abilities. And in addition to leaving, I was also surprised at how little of a fight they put up. Now granted Emmy may have gotten free thanks to a loophole in their rules. But I feel that now that we have a definition of Emmy’s power, all of the others in the group seem small by comparison. I feel like the stakes have been lowered a bit since Emmy seems to be the most powerful witch in existence.
Not that there are no strong points in this issue. A small portion of the story sheds some light on “The Abandoned” (or as I refer to him, the big yellow-eyed bull monster). Which until this point has remained one of the bigger mysteries in the series. This scene is especially gratifying because of the members of Emmy’s true family; Levi is the one who interacts with it. I don’t want to give anything away but let's just say that because Levi seems to be one of the higher ups in the family, this scene has, even more, weight than it would have with another character.
The art continues to make Harrow one of the best books out there. Haunting and dark, I have yet to come across an issue that doesn’t deliver. Whether they’re drawing sweeping landscapes on the title page, conveying a massive wasteland through a single panel, or projecting menace in a close-up, each one is crafted with the same care and attention to detail.
If you read this comic like I did the first time around, you will probably be disappointed. This isn’t a climax issue. This is a plateau, an experiment in how comics are told. It’s one of those issues that’s true worth won’t be known until the arc is resolved. Despite its flaws, it’s still one of the better books out there. And if the story is going where I think it’s going, I think the real answers should be coming in soon.
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Harrow County #16 Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Tyler Crook Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital