Horror comic books are de rigueur during the month of October, so it’s always a challenge sifting the wheat from the chaff. And I have to admit, I’m not even a big horror guy. So it was weird that, being so spoiled for perhaps more outwardly interesting choice, I decided to review Boom’s Rowans Ruin #1 by Mikes Carey and Perkins, especially because I was taken by neither the book’s solicits, nor its cover. But something happened when I gave it my usual quick three-page once-over, and I found myself suitably haunted. But not in the way you might think... Rowans Ruin #1 follows Katie Shackley, a young American blogger who, in a bid to escape the mundanity of studio apartment living in the States, agrees to a house-swap in the UK, at the family estate of a one Emily Coles, named Rowans Rise (hence, the title). However, what could have easily devolved into the trite romcom inanity of the similarly-plotted 2006 “film” The Holiday, very quickly (from the outset, really) becomes overshadowed by the tortured past of the Coles family, haunted as it is by dead dogs, dark magic, killer trees and what appears to be Solomon Grundy Lite.
There are so many things that should stop me from liking this book, paramount amongst which is how loathsome I find it when writers (especially male writers) try to affect the parlance of young millennial women. But I have to admit, apart from Katie shrieking “OH EM GEE” once (ugh), and weirdly referencing an obscure late-1980s album, Carey does a fair job of injecting humor and believability in both Katie’s cultural vernacular and the expository milieu that makes up her direct address narrative, which is cleverly arranged in blog posts, emails and direct messages, rather than just as thought captions.
The story itself isn’t anything new, really - haunted house in a strange land - but I enjoy how Carey structures it around a very Shakespearean framework. That, of course, makes sense, given Rowans Ruin’s setting in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I was lucky enough to make the pilgrimage there a few years back, and it is one of the most scenically, architecturally, dare I say spiritually interesting places in the whole of the country, which, for the UK, is honestly saying a lot. One of the best tricks in this series is capturing Stratford’s haunted yet uplifting atmosphere, thanks mostly to artist Mike Perkins.
Perkins’ figure work could be seen as hit-and-miss in this issue, thanks to his frenetic style, but what never misses is the strength of his backgrounds. Whether it’s the interior of a family home in Anytown, USA, the outside facade of a stately British manor, a random corner shop, or a romantic boat ride on the River Avon against the backdrop of a looming Royal Shakespeare Theatre, like Carey, Perkins does a great job of solidifying the frame of his treatment, while visually allowing his foreground to undulate more freely.
I do think he gets a bit “oogity-boogity” with the issue’s thus-far only monster, and again, his facial acting may be too loose for some, but Perkins does well, with Carey, in establishing a modern world cast against an ancient one still haunted by the undead and witchcraft. One could, however, also argue that exposition - the historical links with black magic, especially - comes a bit thick at times, but I actually appreciate the thought and research that went into this setup issue, both visually and narratively.
Rowans Ruin #1 will most likely be paired with Scott Snyder’s Wytches, which I don’t think is too far off a comparison, depending on how well this team can follow up this issue. In my opinion, it needs to back away from the more blatant scares (i.e., the Scooby Doo zombie guy) and ramp up its more atmospherically simmering menace, if it wants to become a valuable new addition to indie comics’ collective horror obsession. If it can do that, I’ll continue to be on this story, both in rise and in ruin.
Rowans Ruin #1 Writer: Mike Carey Artist: Mike Perkins Colorist: Andy Troy Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price: $3.99 Release Date: 10/7/15 Format: Mini-series; Print/Digital