A new arc of “Harrow County” begins here with Tyler Crook returning to art duties in a story that takes a closer look at Bernice, Emmy’s best friend.
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Tyler Crook
A malevolent serpent sows madness and malice into the town’s residents, and there’s only one way to stop it. But the shadowy Lovey Belfont’s motivations are far from pure, and an alliance could spell doom for Bernice and the entirety of the town.
“Harrow County” has a tradition of opening each issue with a double-page spread. After being away from the series for a month, the spread serves as a way to settle in the reader, like familiar opening titles from a favorite television show. This issue’s spread is particularly beautiful, reminding me all over again what a unique series this is. Nothing else out there looks like “Harrow County”. No one else has such a warm take on horror. The world presented on these pages is one I’d like to step into. I’d like to take a walk in these woods.
For me, this is “Harrow County’s” most defining characteristic: it is inviting. This is a strange way to describe a horror series, I know, but this is precisely why the horror works so well. The horror elements are creepy by contrast—an unnatural discrepancy.
I’m not just talking about the visuals. The friendship between Emmy and Bernice is my favorite relationship in “Harrow County”. Understandably there has been some friction between the two characters since Emmy discovered that she’s some manner of reincarnation of the witch Hester Beck. This drove a wedge between the two girls early on and it could have easily been mined for conflict for a long time.
However, that would have been too easy. Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook made both characters more interesting than that. They’re capable of empathizing with each other; Emmy can understand why Bernice was afraid of her, and Bernice is capable of seeing her friend as more than a witch. Their friendship feels genuine because they value it enough not to cast it aside at the first sign of trouble. They’re willing to rebuild instead of burning bridges with each other in anger or fear. But more than that, I love the way these two girls keep finding common ground and are ready to help shoulder each other’s worries.
Their friendship is genuine—the stable core of “Harrow County”.
The first scene with the girls shows the pair of them walking through the woods together, then parting and Bernice continues on her own path alone. This was a nice touch, an appropriate visual to begin a story where Bernice, not Emmy, is the protagonist. Up to this point we’ve only ever seen Bernice through the lens of her friendship with Emmy. Now we just see Bernice.
This issue could have easily felt like filler material or a disposable side story, but the way Bernice is written, I don’t find it difficult to imagine a version of “Harrow County” with her as the lead. This isn’t just a story showing Bernice’s place in Harrow County; it’s also about her grappling with the fallout from the first arc, asking questions very different from the ones that trouble Emmy. After all, Bernice’s grandfather was created by Hester Beck—that’s a big deal. What makes Bernice an effective main character is the way she asks the questions that stem from this revelation, and the story is used as a vehicle to explore her questioning.
I believe this is the most beautiful issue of “Harrow County” to date. The art is spectacular, and it’s partnered perfectly with Cullen Bunn’s evocative prose. In a sequence in which Bernice is travelling home to Mason Hollow, the art and writing feed off each other to powerful effect. Bunn’s narration isn’t merely describing what’s already in the panels; it gives the reader a sense of something that isn’t there. Looking at the pages of Bernice walking along the path to Mason Hollow, it isn’t hard to imagine her walking past stalls selling mason jars of wine. The prose fills the panels with phantoms and she is simultaneously in the past and the present. As the panels drift down to the mud and glass, a feeling of loss settles over the scene so that when Bernice arrives in Mason Hollow, we can’t help but transpose those feelings onto the town and the people that live there, and by extension we learn about Bernice from the way we feel about the environment where she was raised. Neither writing nor art could have worked this magic alone.Continued below
A great deal of thought has gone into what the environments say about the characters that live in them. Bernice’s bedroom is filled with books and has a desk for study. Keep in mind this is the 1930s, when schools were still segregated and black people were dismissed as being incapable of learning at an advanced level, so I imagine Bernice is educating herself. Considering the opening panel of this sequence showed her window as the only room of the house with light shining from it, she presumably studies late into the night. None of these details are outwardly stated, they are simply there to be observed, so that their effect is felt rather than consciously processed.
I’ve been fond of Bernice since the second issue when she came to Emmy’s aid in the woods. Her loyalty and deep empathy immediately drew me to the character, and with each new issue she’s appeared in since, I’ve liked her more and more. However, this issue seals the deal—she’s my favorite character. In the face of adversity, she’s driven, self-reliant, and determined to challenge accepted wisdom. (What can I say? I like skeptics.) No, she’s not perfect—she almost let Emmy get strangled to death in the third issue—but she is capable of admitting her shortcomings and challenging herself to be better. I can’t help but love her.
Final verdict: 9. “Harrow County” continues to show the best horror comics has to offer. Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook complement each other perfectly—they clearly love working on this series, and that passion for the work shows in every page.