At its core, there’s a lot to like about the debut issue of Aaron Williams and Fiona Staples’ “North 40.” It’s a simple premise, with people in a rural county trapped within its boundaries when a portal to hell releases all sorts of demons and dark powers. Think “Evil Dead 2” set in an entire county instead of a remote house and you’ve got the basic idea of the mini-series. Unfortunately, the issue has a couple of large rough spots that could’ve used some sanding down before release.
Williams’ script moves at a breakneck pace, jumping from one event to the next with such speed that seems impressive at first. After all, I appreciate when a story doesn’t overly dawdle. There are far too many first issues that should have been just the first ten pages, after all. The problem is, Williams’ script actually moves a little bit too fast. It’s so busy hopping from one scene to the next that I actually started to wonder if there was a misprint and “North 40” was missing a few pages. The end result with all of this shuffling from one moment to the next is that it’s hard to get to know — or more importantly, care about — any of the characters. Who are the main characters? Who are the villains? Who’s just an “extra” on a page? Only the cover can give you some hints in that regard, and even then I’m not sure.
I do like Fiona Staples’ art in “North 40,” though. It’s a lanky, wiry style that brings to mind creators like James O’Barr. She’s able to draw both the regular people and the freaks in her style that makes both feel almost natural side by side. (Almost, but not quite. Which is how it should be.) Most of the creepy, horror feel from “North 40” comes from how Staples draws Williams’ scenes, bringing an extra level of fear into the book.
Hopefully future issues will slow down a bit, because this could be a lot of fun. As it is, there are some little moments here and there that show glimmers of the potential of “North 40.” I love that the woman doing a deal with the dark powers has to bite the inside of her cheek to draw the blood because she won’t use the rusty old scythe and risk lockjaw, for example. It’s a funny, clever moment that’s punctuated with beautiful art and colors from Staples. Here’s to seeing that side of “North 40” in #2.