What if it’s all connected? That’s the question lingering at the core of Gideon Falls, the new Image Comics ongoing series from and writer Jeff Lemire, artist Andrea Sorrentino, colorist Dave Stewart and letterer Steve Wands. A bleary, disorienting blend of paranormal mystery and horror, its narrative twists around the fevered visions of Norton, a disturbed young man rummaging through an unnamed city’s garbage, collecting splinters of wood and nails he believe come from a trans-dimensional structure called “The Black Barn;” and Father Fred, a Catholic priest plagued by his past actions, dispatched to the small town of Gideon Falls, where all is not as it appears in its placid corn fields.
Given Lemire and Sorrentino’s track record, including high-profile runs together on Old Man Logan and Green Arrow, and Lemire’s work on books like Descender and Black Hammer, it’s easy to see why the demand for the first issue has resulted in an immediate second printing. But it’s easy to suspect the reaction to the book runs deeper than just the pedigree of the creators: we live in a time rife with conspiracy, when people from all corners of the political spectrum grapple for some way to make sense of the complications of our present moment. The thought of an underlying connective evil, a thread tying together all this pure chaos may not be a comforting one per se, but it’s at least logical.
“You can impose meaning on anything if you try hard enough,” Norton’s therapist explains to him, trying to dissuade him from falling into the trap of his own paranoia and dread. But Norton, like us readers, believes that the narrative isn’t one he’s constructed.
Gideon Falls has roots in the Lemire’s cinematic experiments more than two decades ago. Exploring the wastes of Toronto, a city he describes as “filthy” in his post-comic notes, he created short films about a character rummaging through trash and waste, following a obscured trail of a conspiracy only he could hope to reveal. Though the new book features other recognizable reference points, including Twin Peaks, The Exorcist and the grime-covered cities of ‘80s indie comics, it’s clear that the ideas coursing through the sparse, often textless pages have sat with Lemire for many years. A stranger, digging for something in the discarded ignites Lemire’s imagination, and that energy jolts directly to the reader. Sorrentio’s beautiful images match the disorienting tone, presenting images upside down, from low vantage points or via twisted views. Stewart’s stark colors boldly intensify the vision. The Black Barn, which unites Father Fred and Norton in their dreams, stands ominously before a foreboding red backdrop, a pure vision of terror and foreboding.
Though Fred and Norton haven’t met in person yet, they are connected by their secret knowledge. Perhaps it’s God bringing them together — or maybe, Norton concedes, it’s the Devil. The grisly end of the first issue certainly indicates the possibility (and provides another opportunity for Father Fred to take the Lord’s name in vain). But whoever or whatever the mystery of the Black Barn concerns, it’s clear that Lemire and Sorrentino are onto something grimly majestic, scratching out a message in rotted wood with rusted nails, drawing the paranoid Norton and broken Fred into alignment to illustrate the necessity of connection; even a connection centered on pain and fear. After all, the idea that it may all be connected is indeed terrifying, but the only thing scarier would be if it’s not.