Joe Hill is one of the more accessible writers working in the horror genre these days. He wears his influences (beyond the obvious shades of his father’s work) on his sleeve, but what he creates is one of a kind. From his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box to the Eisner Award-winning comic series Locke & Key (co-created and illustrated by the incredible Gabriel Rodriguez), Hill’s body of work is bursting at the seams with humanity and the lengths people go to protect those they love. His latest effort in the graphic medium, this time with artist Leomacs, Basketful of Heads #1 takes its time establishing an emotional core, which is smart for the long con, but may not grab newcomers immediately.
Basketful of Heads #1, the first release from DC Comics’ latest horror imprint Hill House Comics, is difficult to review in a vacuum. If you’re familiar with Joe Hill’s storytelling, you know well and good that Mr. Hill takes his time building a world and setting a scene in the vast majority of his long form narratives. The debut issue of Basketful of Heads is very much all world-building. This issue is setting the stage for whatever madness leads to the titular cranial receptacle we see in the first few panels.
The story picks up at the end of the summer of 1983 in the small fictitious town of Brody Island, Maine when June Branch and her seasonal-police officer boyfriend, Liam get pulled into an incident involving escaped prisoners. Based on the ad copy for this issue and a blink-and-you'll-miss-it Chekhov's Gun scene, the situation is bound to get bloody with the involvement of a mystical Viking battle axe.
Hill takes his time getting to what appears to be the first big setting for this story, but once we're there, it's impossible not to want to know what's going to come next. This is by far the book's biggest strength. Readers familiar with Hill's other work will feel right at home in the pages of Basketful of Heads #1. The horror maestro is great at building tension and setting the stage for a series of potentially tragic events to unfold. Despite it's lurid title, the first issue of Basketful of Heads is restrained and deliberately paced. In fact, not a drop of blood is spilled in this issue (at least, not really), but it's obvious that will change very quickly.
Leomacs (Lucifer) gives Basketful of Heads #1 a bucolic tone that feels timeless. The style of this issue could easily work just as well in the pages of Archie. The characters have soft, yet distinct features, and panels where the color bleeds into unfinished corners make each page feel like something that's both vintage and modern. The only real problem from a visual standpoint would be how static the panels feel. Sure several pages of this issue are just two people having a conversation in a car, but it would have been nice to see something a bit more dynamic in the blocking of the panels and the page layout.
Overall, Basketful of Heads #1 isn't the big, splashy debut that Locke & Key was, but it certainly holds its own. The art is strong and the anticipation Hill builds is palpable, especially by the end of the issue. It's a bit odd to recommend a series based on a rather uneventful debut issue, but here we are. Hill's track record as a great storyteller (seriously, read Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts if you haven't already) is far too strong to ignore this comic.