Cullen Bunn and past artistic collaborator Tyler Crook conjure up an old southern-style horror story that spans generations in “Harrow County” #1, opening with a troublesome witch who is gruesomely executed by a group of justifiably-fearful locals. A quick flashback reveals a sinister and macabre history with the mysterious woman, who the local populace can no longer ignore, but — as quickly as this is established — she’s put to death; or, at least, her executors make their best attempt to end her. With that, the scene moves to a few decades later when a young girl on the cusp of her eighteenth birthday finds herself plagued with some horrific sounds and visions.
Fully aware that the connection will be immediately apparent, Bunn doesn’t try to make a mystery out of it. Crook conveys this multiple ways with his art; young Emmy’s father is immediately recognizable, even though he looked a little younger on the preceding pages, and the prominence of the gnarled old oak tree in Crook’s double page spread makes it pretty obvious that the tree was the scene of the hanging all those years ago. Crook sets the mood right away, too; the sight of a bloody woman hanging from a noose tells readers this isn’t going to be a pretty story, and her grisly final moments prove it. There is a dark kind of beauty to the double pager, though, with the large tree looming in the foreground while Emmy’s house and seemingly normal woods in the background serve as an everyday contrast.
After packing a punch in the issue’s introduction, though, Bunn slows things way down to introduce Emmy. The first four pages that feature her are a drawn out and almost laborious third-person account of her current emotional state and her open disdain for that very same oak tree outside her bedroom window. It almost seems like a weird kind of obsession, one that becomes more understandable as the story progresses and her character is explored, but it would have seemed a little more plausible if more was known about her first.
Things pick up somewhat as it becomes more of a coming of age story, although there’s plenty of horror to be found as well. The woods behind the house have their own dangers and curiosities, as it turns out, and — for that matter — so does what transpires in her father’s own barn. Crook pulls double duty at this point, illustrating both the horrors found in the woods as well as a far more docile period piece that bleeds into the Old South.
The pacing is a little uneven, but the art is far more consistent, making “Harrow County” #1 an enticing enough start that blends a couple of diverse genres with a distinct setting that helps overcome its weak points.