Markley’s Fevered Brain: Over the Hill

Wayne Markley

Wayne Markley


by Wayne Markley

Joe Hill is easily one of the best writers of comics today. He does not do a lot, but what he has done is almost always top notch. His reputation continues to grow with each new series he does. While he does write in a number of genres, horror is what he is best known for. Recently, DC Comics launched a new line of books called Hill House Comics. (Originally planned to be called Vertigo Fall, then Joe Hill’s Vertigo Fall, then, with the cancellation of the Vertigo, line you got Hill House Comics.) So far there are four titles in the line of books and all are six issue miniseries. I think this is good as horror is difficult to pull off in long form and with each series being limited to six issues, it makes each series a tightly told tale. I have really enjoyed these four series so far, and I look forward to each new issue. With there being so few horror comics these days, these books are a nice change. Do note though that these are not horror like in the 1950s horror comics or the E.C. Comics. These are all horror built on suspense and the unknown rather than creatures of the night or the undead, or even the almost true crime elements that many of the E.C. stories had. I am also going to briefly discuss Joe Hill’s newest book for IDW, a crime story about a stand-up comic, which is also very, very good.

Basketful of Heads #3

Basketful of Heads #3


Basketful of Heads was the first book from this new line to come out. It is written by Joe Hill and drawn by Leomacs with covers Reiko Murakami. So far this has been my favorite of this line of books because it is such a beautiful mix of reality based suspense and absurdity. As with all of Joe Hill’s comics (and his prose stories for that matter) he is able to convey and build a whole world in which the stories take place so you really get a feeling that the places and the strange events can really be happening. At times, this can make for a slow opening as he explains the world around the characters in the story but that is not the case here. The basic story is set in a small town in Maine in 1983. There we meet a small town deputy sheriff, who is very young, trying to impress his girlfriend. Quickly in the first issue we see the use of a vintage Viking axe lead to a number of murders and beheadings. But alas, beheading does not mean death as the heads (well, one so far) can still talk and think. This leads to a search for vengeance with a talking head in a basket and a very bloody trail of bodies. The first four issues of this six (or maybe seven, I have seen it listed as both) issue series have been released so far and I have really enjoyed them. It reads like you are watching a Wes Craven film. You can’t turn away even though you are afraid of what is coming next. The story is dark and well told, and as with all of Hill’s books, expectedly paced, so it keeps you engaged while not getting too bogged down with side stories or red hearings. Also, as with much of Hill’s work, there is a touch here and there of humor, alas black humor at times, which makes this story all the more enjoyable. All six (?) issues are scheduled to be collected into a hardcover collection this fall, but I for one cannot wait for each monthly issue as so far there is no way I could have expected the directions it has gone it. A great read.

The Dollhouse Family #2

The Dollhouse Family #2


The second title to be released is called The Dollhouse Family. This six issue miniseries is credited as being written by Mike Carey and Joe Hill, but I suspect it is Hill’s plot and Carey’s dialogue. It is drawn by Carey’s long time collaborator Peter Gross. Set in 1990s London, this is the story of Alice, a six year old girl whose dying great Aunt gives her the perfect gift, a giant 19th century doll house complete with a family of dolls. It is something Alice always wanted. As the story progresses, we find that Alice can “join” the doll house family who are real and living a “normal” life inside this dollhouse. Or so it seems. Over the course of the first three issues we see Alice grow up and how the Dollhouse affects her daughter. A very different feel and read than Basketful of Heads, due to the settings and the type of story, but it is just as creepy and almost as enjoyable. I cannot wait to see where this story is going, but I suspect it cannot be good.

The Low, Low Woods #1

The Low, Low Woods #1


The third book to come out from Hill House Comics is The Low, Low Woods. This book is written by Carmen Maria Machado (and credited as being co-written by Joe Hill) and illustrated by Dani and Dan McDaid. This is my least favorite of the four books from Hill House Comics so far, though it is still good. It does not hold my attention or captivate me as much as the other three titles do. The story behind this one is about two teenage losers, El and Octavia, who wake up in a movie theatre with no memories of the last few hours of their lives in the town where they live. Now the town, Shudder-To-Think, PA, is as much part of the story as El and Octavia (which is common is Joe Hill stories). Shudder-To-Think is an old coalmining town that has seen better days with the mines long being closed (yet many still with fires burning within them), and the surrounding woods filled with strange and creepy critters. I should not be too harsh on this series as only two issues are out so far and it is only a third into the story, so it may turn around and really grab me, but of the four books it has had the weakest opening.

Daphne Byrne #1

Daphne Byrne #1


The fourth, and newest, book from Hill House Comics is called Daphne Byrne and it is written by Laura Marks (and Joe Hill credited as co-writer) with art by the great (and he is really good here) Kelley Jones. This is once again a six issue miniseries and only the first issue is out so far. But it was a great first issue. It is set in the late 1800s in New York where a 14 year old girl named Daphne’s father has just died. Her mother is overwhelmed with grief and turns to mediums who claim they can contact her late father. This is, of course, hokum, but Daphne nevertheless tries to get her mother away from these vultures. But while she is trying to do this, she finds something far more sinister within her own body, something called “brother”, and it is not a good thing. For a first issue, I really like this book. Again, it is nothing like the other three books in terms of setting or even feel, and that is a positive. All four books are horror tales, but in different ways. I really enjoyed this first issue and I am looking forward to the next five.

In all of the Joe Hill books there is a backup story that varies from 2-4 pages and is called Sea Dogs. These stories spread across every Hill House Comic, with a chapter in each comic in sequence. That is to say, chapter one of Sea Dogs was in Basketful of Heads #1, chapter two was in Basketful of Heads #2, chapter three was in Dollhouse Family #1, , etc. So to get all of the Sea Dogs story, you have to get all of the Hill House Comics and read them in the order of release. I have no doubt at some point the entire story will be collected, and to be honest for two to four pages, I would not let this be the deciding factor on whether or not to buy a book. Sea Dogs is a pirate story with strong supernatural overtones but to me it has been far weaker than the four lead titles.

Dying is Easy #3

Dying is Easy #3


While I am on the topic of Joe Hill, I would also like to point out he also has another four issue series currently coming out from IDW called Dying is Easy. It is written by Joe Hill and drawn by Martin Simmons. It is about Syd Holmes, a disgraced ex-cop turned standup comedian. Sadly, it turns out he is not that good at either job. Yet, he is not so bad that he should be killed, even though someone is trying to kill Syd. This is a very entertaining story told in a hardboiled detective style with touches of humor. So far two of the four issues are out and I have really enjoyed them. A hardcover collection will also be out this fall. Completely different from the Hill House Comics DC is doing, but equally as good.

Locke & Key

Locke & Key


If you cannot get enough of Joe Hill, or are intrigued by what you have read here, he has also written these comics, all which are available in collections. Locke and Key, s Lovecraftian horror story about a family in New England. Soon to be a TV show. The Cape, in what I think is one of his best books, is a very different take on the superhero genre. Wraith is not my favorite story about a children’s amusement part. Tales From the Darkside, based on old television show, along with his collaborator on Locke and Key, Gabriel Rodriguez. While capturing the feel of the show, it did not work that well for me. And there are also a few other books he co-wrote or were adaptations of his stories. Almost all of these are from IDW.

Plunge #1

Plunge #1


So this is my thoughts on DC’s new Hill House Comics line. So far there have been four books and all four have been very good to excellent. I suspect there will be more down the line if these books find success. (Editor’s note: DC has solicited for the first two issues of of the latest Hill House Comics title,  Plunge by Hill and artist Stuart Immonen.) Given how few horror comics are out there, I would think these books fill a needed void. Have you read any of these books yet? Did you like them as much as I have? Do you think they will end as strongly as they have begun? I would like to know. I can be reached at MFBWAY@AOL.COM or on Facebook at Wayne Markley. All of these thoughts, opinions, and words, are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the opinions of Westfield Comics or their employees. As always…

Thank you.

USER COMMENTS

We'd love to hear from you, feel free to add to the discussion!