When COVID-19 brought the comics industry to a screeching halt, my colleague Tony Thornley and I decided to dive deep into our longboxes and collections to bring you a new Comicon feature called New To You Comics.
Comics are on their way back, but we had so much fun with this thing, we decided to keep going.
Tony and I have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his shiny tights, super powers, and sci-fi. I tend to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, our paths cross, but we, like most readers, tend to stay in our lanes.
We’re here to break up that pattern a little. Tony’s throwing some of his favorites my way, and I’m sending him some of mine. Every title we cover is brand new to one of us, and every stinking one of them is available on digital and mail order platforms, in case your local shop is still closed.
This week, we’re taking on Dark Horse Comics’ Death Follows, by Cullen Bunn and A.C. Zamudio.
Here’s what Dark Horse says about the book:
Birdie, her sister, their pregnant mother, and their frail father all live together on a struggling farm. When an itinerant farmhand comes to their aid, the children should be relieved. Instead, they find their lives spiraling into nightmare, as the hired man regards Birdie’s sister with menacing desire.
To make matters much worse, wherever he goes, the dead grow restless. As the horror threatens to consume her home and her family, Birdie is haunted by a chilling warning: Some secrets are meant only for the dead.
Brendan Allen: I honestly hadn’t read this one myself until a couple months ago. I know, right? There are Cullen Bunn books that even I haven’t read. It’s been a minute since we did a really creepy horror piece for this series, so I figured we were about due. This one is truly and grotesquely twisted. How you doing over there, Tony?
Tony Thornley: You act like I’m some shrinking violet over here. Come on man, give me some credit. But this is another one that you owe me for.
Brendan: Death Follows is shockingly and unapologetically morbid. Cullen Bunn leads the reader into some incredibly deep, dark water. There’s obviously something off about Cole from the outset, but even as the sense of dread builds, nothing in the first chapters really prepares you for that last big unexpected pop.
Tony: Know what this one reminded me of? One of those really creepy Stephen King novellas mixed with classic EC horror comics. It’s scary, it’s morbid, it has a little bit of a dark sense of humor, but that final act just scares your socks off. It doesn’t hurt that the collection also includes Bunn’s original short story that the mini-series is based on.
It’s dripping in atmosphere, it has excellent narration, and just comes around to being super effective horror in the end.
Brendan: I love how quickly the thing goes South at the turn. It starts out with this almost slow burn kind of build, then when the momentum gets rolling, everything goes sideways all at once.
Tony: Oh absolutely. That does bring me to my one gripe though. I kind of felt like this could have trimmed the fat a bit. It has this great sense of dread and uneasiness, but then we get a zombie in a stunning horror sequence. And then it goes back to dread and uneasiness for an entire issue. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but it loses traction a bit by sliding backwards for an entire issue.
Brendan: Yeah, except one of the running themes is that Birdie is unsure of her own position, whether she’s got a legitimate reason for not liking Cole or if she’s imagining things. Second guesses herself all over the place. Thought she saw a zombie get done over by the hired hand with a shovel in the moonlight. She’s wanting to know who’s going to believe her, and whether she even just saw that impossible thing to start with.
Tony: I think that’s the very “Stephen King” thing about it. It’s so rooted in the characters that even with a bit of a pacing issue, it’s still an engrossing read.
Man, the art is just solid throughout though. AC Zamudio’s lines are another part of the book that evokes EC. It’s heightened JUST enough that it’s unsettling, but has realism to the point that it’s unsettling to see a person as fully formed as Birdie go through this.
Brendan: That first time Cole smiles at Birdie, and you can SEE those deep periodontal pockets in his gums… The dude is just gross.
Tony: And the resurrected rats at the end of the first issue… Also Carlos Nicolas Zamudio’s colors really evoke a feel. They’re very realistic at first, making the farm feel like home.
Brendan: Starts off with that O, Brother sepia wash you like so much. Dust Bowl browns and yellows.
Tony: Right. You can almost hear the bluegrass from Mama’s kitchen radio. But then the horror creeps in and there’s more greys and reds, and unnatural shades of yellow… It’s very effective work at setting the mood.
Brendan: The whole thing comes together nicely. It’s really hard to do horror well in comics. Death Follows hits all the right notes for me. The art is fantastic. The story is well developed, and builds steadily to that huge pop. And at the end, even though the problem at hand is sort of solved, there’s still a little uneasy ambiguity about what happens next. There is that epilogue, but there’s still one big door left wide open.
What’s your verdict?
Tony: Horrifying irony is one of the best tropes in horror. I dug that ending.
It’s not a perfect story but it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great close-ended short story, with strong character work and a terrifying climax. I liked it.
Brendan: Fair. What’s on deck for next week?
Tony: We’re doing the big one. Definitely the single best X-Men story ever, and perhaps the greatest superhero story of all time. It’s gonna be The Dark Phoenix Saga.
Death Follows, Dark Horse Comics, 07 June 2016. Story by Cullen Bunn, art by A.C. Zamudio, color by Carlos Nicolas Zamudio, cover art by Simon Bisley.
Some of your local shops have re-opened. As always, we’d like to ask that you first try to get these books at your local shop. This is a very uncertain time for owners, employees, and their families. Show some love for your community and friends by buying from your regular shop when possible and safe.
If your local comic store is still closed, not offering safe curbside pick up or mail order, or is out of stock on this title, you can find a digital copy at Comixology for $12.