In "Rowans Ruin" #1, writer Mike Carey surrounds the classic haunted house scenario with some modern trappings, while artist Mike Perkins gives equal weight to both these and the story's horrific centerpiece. Acknowledging that the trope of the remote, mysterious mansion has been explored in many horror stories past, Carey wisely focuses on the story's central figure instead, establishing Katie as someone more than just the naÃ¯ve young woman about to undertake all the wrong actions. In turn, Perkins establishes an atmosphere beyond darkened rooms and hallways, presenting an otherwise comfortable and serene setting that contrasts nicely with the chilling flash-forward leading off the story.
Carey makes sure there's no mistake: this is indeed a story featuring a house that -- if not haunted -- nonetheless contains something horrifically amiss. The issue kicks off with the lead character running for her life, overlaid with the chilling telephone dialogue between her and an emergency dispatch operator. The three page sequence gives readers a sneak peek of what to expect, and it's enough to grab their attention before Carey throttles back the tension and the timeframe by several months.
Save for the brief initial appearance by her parents, Carey largely focuses on Katie and only Katie, choosing the more challenging route of establishing her character and personality without direct interaction with others, at least for the majority of the issue. Carey does this by leaning on Katie's usage of modern technology and social media, relying on her indirect actions with other people through her blog and other online presences. The modern spin gives the issue both a fresher feel and also serves to advance the story, as her social media-initiated house swap starts off the story and her video diary explores the English countryside backdrop with a few hints something isn't quite right in her new surroundings.
Perkins' art, as well as the nature-driven pastels of Andy Troy's colors, provide a quiet and comforting atmosphere that genuinely seems serene despite the disquieting hints; they don't oversell the quiet nature of the environment solely as a means to contrast the frightening elements. Perkins and Troy are able to abruptly transition from chill to chills, both the kind seen from the shadowy reflections in the windows and mirrors as well as those that come from within Katie's own mind.
Once readers have gotten to know her, Carey introduces the potential love interest, which allows a gradual exploration of her character and how she behaves in the company of others as opposed to her solo adventures. Perkins and Troy continue to convey an appropriately idyllic atmosphere here, and Carey's choice to make his story so character-driven makes readers momentarily forget there's a horror mystery brewing. When the creative team switches the mood back to the darker confines of the house, the horror elements seem all the scarier.
"Rowans Ruin" #1 is a rare combination of great characterization and heart-stopping horror that doesn't resort to cliches, instead focusing on the characters and their 21st century influences. It's a strong introduction that's enough to win over wary skeptics who might hesitate to pick up another horror comic.