• Harrow County Volume 5: Abandoned

    Harrow County Volume 5: Abandoned
    Released by: Dark Horse Comics
    Released on: May 24th, 2015.
    Written by: Cullen Bunn
    Illustrated by: Carla Speed McNeil, Tyler Crook
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    A narrator tells of us a place long ago and far away from Harrow County. As we hear this story, the beast we’ve seen in past issues rises out of the water to feast on some wild horses as they run along the beach. As the beast enjoys its meal, a man named Malachi and a woman named Amaryllis walk into the scene. Malachi puts a stop to it and commands it to return home.

    It turns out the narrator is, not surprisingly, the beast itself and it is telling this story to Emi, who is surprised to learn that it knows of the ‘family’ she recently dealt with. Why is it telling Emi all of this now? Because everything changed once Malachi and the others came looking for her.

    We flashback to the beach, Malachi tells the creature that they only want to help while Amaryllis pets the horses until thinking about how they got to the area makes her sad. She won’t have the freedom they have. The beast tries to leave, but Amaryllis and Malachi persist, encouraging it to come back with them. Their pleading is ignored and they stroll off to try and find the other members of the family, to ‘talk some sense into them.’

    In the present, Emi promises to protect the creature should Levi and the others come back. The monster is not convinced and continues its story. Here we see how two fishermen managed to snag it on a line. They’re knocked into the freezing water, one of them pulled under, blood emerging on the surface but before that one man refers to the four eyed horned beast as ‘Ol’ Buck.’ The surviving fisherman makes it to shore only to come face to face with some of the family members who, according to their law, have no choice but to kill him for intruding on their ways. Meanwhile, in the town itself where Christmas celebrations are afoot, a woman wonders where her Merle has gotten off to, unaware that he was out in that boat. Amaryllis and Malachi walk amongst the human population as an old town ritual pays homage to Buck. When Malachi runs into Levi at the celebration, he knows why Levi has arrived – and it that it won’t end well for the beast.

    The opening sequence of the eighteenth issue of Harrow County shows us that the meeting lodge would just appear during ‘times of strife,’ somehow it knew when it was time for a conclave. None in the family would refuse its call, but on this on particular occasion, it seems that Malachi had the gumption to do just that. Nobody knows where he is, not even Amaryllis.

    Levi starts to get mouthy about this, accusing Malachi of creating laws that he expects others to abide by but not honoring those laws himself. He gives quite a dramatic speech to the others that is interrupted when Malachi himself shows up and accuses him of killing his brother. Malachi denies it and blames ‘the long pigs’ – he says that they thought they were killing the mythical beast, ‘Ol Buck,’ the subject of their folk stories. Malachi knows that one of their own had a hand in this, however. He leaves the room. He’s done with this. He intended to bring Hester into the fold, but instead leaves her there with the others, instructing them to raise her as he raised them.

    Emmy is hearing all of this second hand from the beast that Malachi thought to be dead as the two of them stroll through the woods of Harrow County in the middle of the night. They talk of Hester, how Malachi left her expecting she’d work his well on the family in his place but how he instead planted a bitter seed in her heart. Malachi created her, just like Hester would go on to create so many others, and for better or worse she was the closest thing to an actual human he ever created. She was supposed to take his place and turn the family into something better.

    And then we learn just what she took from Malachi’s tutorage, how the family came to fear her. Amaryllis took her under her wing only to suffer a foul betrayal, and what happened to Malachi, what he became, after he left…

    A gorgeous splash pages opens up this issue, showing Emmy sitting atop a hill looking out over the landscape. She utters a single word: “Amarylus.” She’s talking to the skin of the boy that lives in her saddle bag. She’s confused, because all this time she and everyone else thought she was Hester. The name sounds weird to her, she’s not used to it, but if she’s taking what Malachi told her as gospel then it must be true. And if it is true, then she is far more powerful than anyone could have possibly imagined – she could create her own reality. She thinks about this for a second, tempted by the idea of trying it, but decides against it.

    She hears dogs barking from the woods nearby and heads in to investigate. She hears a gunshot and spies a hunting party. She’s not sure what they were hunting but as it is getting dark, they decide to gather up the dogs and head home – they don’t want to be in the woods at night.

    Emmy heads home and talks to her pa on the way in. They talk about the hunters, not about what Malachi and the Abandoned told her. She talks pa into driving her to the ‘Red Barn’ where the local hunters gather. She tells him she just wanted to go for breakfast but really, she’s poking about trying to figure out what the hunters were after. She strikes up a conversation with one of the men from the woods, and the man’s nephew, Luke, takes Emmy out to show her the dogs. Away from the grownups, they talk – Emmy learns that these guys have come from out of town to kill the ‘monster’ that has been talked about, that roams the woods of Harrow County. Understandably, she’s none too happy about that but they insist.

    The hunting party heads out to the woods, hoists their bait and wait. Luke tells the rest that Emmy warned them not to do this, but the older men pay him no mind. This won’t end well…

    The men that came in from out of town to hunt the monster known to roam the woods have been done away with quickly by that which they came to do away with. Their hounds, however, have been spared. The beast tells the dogs to go, to ‘find’im’ and off they run through the woods looking for the one member of the hunting party that wasn’t killed – Emmy’s friend Luke.

    Luke, bleeding from his stomach, lies against a tree. He hears the dogs coming his way and mutters to himself, only to be put upon by some rabbit like creatures that come out of the woods only to mock him. When the beast arrives, he tells the creatures to be gone, but they don’t oblige. Instead, they almost seem like they are there to protect him. The creatures and the beast fight a bloody fight and in the fray Luke tries to crawl back into the woods to hide.

    Emmy shows up and insists that they all stop. The beast, Malachi really, tells her that the boy came to hunt him, to kill him – that he owes him for that. And he’s right in a way. Emmy heals Luke’s wounds and Malachi tells her to leave with him and to ensure he never comes back. He also keeps the hounds, they’re creatures of the woods now. As Emmy helps Luke out of the woods, Malachi howls back at her, insisting she find out who sent them, how they found out about him. She ignores him.

    They find Emmy’s pa on the outskirts, waiting with his truck. As he drives them away, Luke tells Emmy that it was his uncle, Ross, who found out about the beast, about the monsters that lived in the woods. In hindsight, Luke notes, they shouldn’t have listened to him – after all, the stories sounded like crazy talk. After all, he heard about the beast from a talking doll he found out in the woods while hunting one day. No one else ever heard the doll talk but Ross did, every night. He even named it – Kammi. Emmy heads back into the woods to make things right…

    No one really believed Kammi was gone for good, did they? Nope! The surprise isn’t that Kammi’s back so much as it is how her return is worked into the story. We haven’t really got to the ‘why’ part yet but those who have been with this series for a while now should have complete faith in Bunn’s storytelling abilities to know that we’ll get there when we need to get there. It’s interesting to see Emmy become more assertive and aggressive here, using her powers in ways that she hasn’t before even if she is understandably reluctant to do so. It’s also interesting to see her stand up to Malachi. There’s a lot going on in this issue, events here are sure to have some pretty serious ramifications in the next few issues.

    Tyler Crook’s artwork has been stunning since the first issue and it’s still stunning now, twenty-issues later. His illustrations are beautiful and horrifying at the same time, infusing Bunn’s writing with some quaint country charm but never skimping on the horror or the suspense elements that are clearly so integral to making this series as riveting a read as it is. It’s also great to see someone as talented as Carla Speed McNeil employed here from time to time (she does the art on the first two issues collected here). Her style doesn’t ape Crook’s, rather she brings her own spin to the look of the book and that’s a good thing. Her artwork suits the story well too.

    In addition to collecting issues seventeen through twenty, this trade paperback edition also includes a ‘Harrow County Sketchbook, ‘Art Process’ and ‘Painting Process’ sections. Here, over the course of approximately twenty pages, we see Crook and Speed McNeil offer up a glimpse into their creative process by way of rough character sketches and layouts. The art is annotated by the two of them as well as by Jenn Manley Lee, who did the coloring over the two issues Speed McNeil illustrated.