Thursday, February 24, 2011

Graphic Novel Review: North 40

I should start by pointing out that the cover above is a total misrepresentation of the story. The Goth girl and the chubby guy in the Cthulhu Lives t-shirt start things off, but they don't really figure much into the whole plot. Two of the main characters, Sheriff Morgan and Wyatt Hinckle, can be seen in the background, while the third, Amanda Walker, is nowhere to be seen. That strikes me as odd, as a scythe-wielding young woman on the cover strikes me as something that can be used to sell comics, but apparently Goth girls rate higher.

But I digress. North 40 was written by Aaron Williams, whom some of you may know as the mind behind the popular Nodwick comic. But while Nodwick, along with Williams's other comics, PS238 and Full Frontal Nerdity, are light-hearted comedies, North 40 is decidedly a weird horror comic. And if the tentacles on the cover didn't already give it away, the horror is of the cosmic/Lovecraftian/weird variety.

The premise is simple: the Goth girl and the nerd on the cover unleash evil on rural Conover County, and it's up to Sheriff Morgan, Wyatt, and Amanda to set things right. People all over the county are starting to manifest strange powers, if they don't outright transform into some strange monstrosity. The more time passes, the worse things get.

The plot moves along quickly, and it soon becomes obvious that there were some pretty strange goings-on in the county even before the evil got unleashed. The main heroes have a few others lending a hand, but other townsfolk are only too happy to use their newfound abilities to cause mischief. The bad guys include a clan of rednecks who hate the sheriff, and a bunch of no-good town kids who like to pick on Wyatt. And zombies high schoolers.

While the sheriff takes advantage of Wyatt's new powers and sense of decency to make the young man his deputy, Amanda must follow the visions she's having of a mysterious old woman. Amanda is one of the most interesting characters in the stories, as the fiery young lady is happy to let people know how she feels about suddenly carrying around a scythe and being bossed around by an old hag. On the whole, I felt like all of the characters were well done. Williams has a knack for capturing their voices in his writing, so even without realizing it, I found myself reading their lines how the characters would deliver them.

The greatest strength of North 40 lies in the constant parade of weirdness. I don't want to give too much away, but you'll see everything from zombies to junkyard 'mechs. Of course, it's all leading up to a final showdown against a tentacular something from a different reality. The art is extremely well done. I'm not a fan of gore for its own sake, and though there is certainly a lot of gore in North 40, it never felt gratuitous. Most importantly, the monsters are consistently interesting and different.

The downside to the story is that there is a lot happening at once, so the various characters and plot threads get tangled quickly. It took me until my second and third reading before I felt like I really understood where everyone was going and why throughout the story.

I would recommend North 40 to fans of horror comics, with a superhero flavor. The story leaves itself open for continuation, so here's hoping we'll see a return to Conover County someday!

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