Harrow County is the dark fantasy-horror story we need in 2015. It plays out as a children’s fairytale gone horribly wrong, full of witches, ghosts, skeletons, ghouls, and all manner of terrifying creatures that inhabit the dark forest which surrounds Harrow County. Written by seasoned horror writer Cullen Bunn (Sixth Gun) who is no stranger to a creepy tale set in America’s past. And drawn by Tyler Crook (B.P.R.D.) whose storybook style art works perfectly to create a wonderfully charming yet utterly creepy tone.
Harrow County like many good Southern Gothic tales is a story about alienation, fear, paranoia, and regret. Years after a small rural town lynches Hester Beck, a witch who both helped and harmed their community, a young girl is coming of age. This girl was spawned from the trunk of the same tree that Hester was hung, and is believed to be Hester’s daughter or Hester herself reincarnated. Harrow County is Emmy’s story, and her struggle against becoming what everyone assumes you will become, especially in a town full of prejudice.
Issue eight finds us on the brink of war between Emmy and her twin sister Kammi, mirror images of each other, they both have different motives and want to use their powers for good or evil. Emmy, just recently finding a peaceful coexistence with the townspeople of Harrow will stop at nothing to maintain that balance. Kammi on the other hand finds Harrow to be the perfect place for her to assume control, drawing upon the evil nature of the haints that live in the forest for help. This struggle for control finally comes to a head and Emmy’s power and control over her environment is tested.
A battle between haints ensues, and in a last-ditch effort to win Kammi assumes Emmy’s form and tries to trick Emmy’s father into turning his back. Kammi is about to pull the trigger on a shotgun when Emmy bursts in. Emmy believes that jealousy is the cause for all of this destruction and violence. Kammi has never truly had someone who cared about her, and when she sees that Harrow depends on Emmy she can’t stand it. But this is why Emmy will always triumph, and where Bunn drives home the childlike fairytale moral, that friendship and loyalty are more important than greed and power. Roots from Hester Beck’s tree rip the calm moment apart, and pull Emmy screaming to the trunk. Kammi believes she has triumphed, claiming that Hester Beck is the only one that truly ever cared for either of them. The dirt rumbles, and a rotten, worm infested corpse of Hester Beck rips forth from the ground, all drawn beautifully by Crook (man, that guy can draw a ghoulish skeleton). Hester grabs Kammi and pulls her into the open earth, while Emmy stands by and lets it happen, for the good of Harrow.
At the end of the issue the gorgeous water colored pages return from a dark gray to a pale blue, as Emmy and her Pa rebuild the house that was wrecked in the fight. She tells her Pa that she could summon help to fix the damage, but he wants to do it by hand, that it “makes him feel real”, a recurring theme throughout the past few issues, the idea that where we come from doesn’t have to define who we are. I didn’t expect such a positive message to be hidden in such darkness, but Harrow County is really a feel-good read. The story of a town full of lost souls who fight against their past to change, become more accepting, and embrace who they are. It feels very relevant in 2015, and promotes an important message. It’s a really great comic, and is very welcome in a genre that can sometimes be stifling with hopelessness and despair. Bunn and Crook know how to scare, but they also know when to pull it back, slow it down, and give you something to think about. This is exactly what a good horror book should be: entertaining, gruesome, fun, and of course, thought-provoking.
Harrow County #8 Writer: Cullen Bunn Artist: Tyler Crook Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/9/15 Format: Ongoing; Print/Digital