Feature: The Bone Orchard Mythos: The Passageway Reviews 

“The Bone Orchard Mythos: The Passageway”

By | July 13th, 2022
Posted in Reviews | % Comments

Whenever Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino work together, you can be certain the resulting comic will be worth picking up. Over time, this becomes more and more true, as the two grow as storytellers and seek out stories that will challenge them. In “The Bone Orchard Mythos: The Passageway,” they’ve crafted a story that is felt more than understood, that has to suggest without being explicit. They’re clearly building on lessons they learned from “Gideon Falls,” while also pushing themselves into new territory.

Written by Jeff Lemire
Illustrated by Andrea Sorrentino
Colored by Dave Stewart
Lettered and designed by Steve Wands

From the acclaimed creative team behind GIDEON FALLS and PRIMORDIAL comes the first book in a bold and ambitious new shared horror universe! When a geologist is sent to a remote lighthouse to investigate strange phenomena, he finds a seemingly endless pit in the rocks. What lurks within—and how will he escape its pull?

THE PASSAGEWAY is the first book in the new BONE ORCHARD MYTHOS from LEMIRE & SORRENTINO! This universe will feature self-contained graphic novels and limited series about the horrors lurking within the Bone Orchard, just waiting to be discovered.

When I think of how an original graphic novel differs from a your standard comic issue, I can’t help but see similar differences between a film made for cinema and episodes of a television show. With cinema, there’s a level of theatricality in getting the audience to setting in as the lights dim. The production logos play, the music begins, the title card appears. . . and a graphic novel does much the same sort of thing with its book design. The endpapers open with hatching suggesting texture and light. This is followed by a black and white image of ocean waves, which immediately put the rhythmic sound of the ocean in the reader’s mind; then there are birds against the title, introducing another sound to the comic’s soundscape. Then there’s a page turn and a double-page spread with a jarringly different image—it brings to mind a Rorschach test, though it lacks the true symmetry of those tests.

Some elements are clear, like the central image of a tree with hanged bodies on its limbs, others are suggested, like the skull-like image created by negative space. The intricacy of the image invites the reader to linger here, and yet what we’re seeing seems to have little to do with the story as we understand it so far. It poses the reader questions before the story has even begun. Another page turn and we’re back to the ocean, birds in the sky, now with the addition or an ominous-looking lighthouse.

Before even reading a page of the actual comic, the reader has already been carefully guided into a certain headspace. The lighthouse, as the last image introduced before the story begins, hangs over everything that follows. These elements may not be what we’d strictly consider comics pages, but clearly Steve Wands’ book design is an essential element of the storytelling in ‘The Passageway.’ It has also gotten the viewer to engage with the story on an almost completely visual level, which trains the reader to look for meaning in visual presentation. When ‘The Passageway’ begins, there’s a lot of necessary exposition to get through, but thanks to the visually-focused opening, by the time we get to long stretches of characters talking, we’re looking for visual cues automatically. Andrea Sorrentino’s page layouts, which could have seemed like a distraction from this dialogue-heavy section if the story had begun here, instead feels like that mood established by the opening pages is intruding into the conversation. We project our feeling of unease onto John Reed—which is exactly what the character is feeling, but trying to ignore.

During this opening scene, Sorrentino's layout calls attention to itself. The lighthouse is an intrusive element.

The book design, which carefully crafts a mood, sets us up for the rhythms of the comic to follow, which has denser sections of dialogue or visual complexity, punctuated by stark, graphic spreads. At one point there’s even a page of solid black, something which would be an indulgence in the single issue format, where every single page is precious storytelling real estate. Again, this feels like the difference between cinema and pre-streaming television (where every minute of every episode mattered). The graphic novel, like cinema, can be more ostentatious in its presentation, where storytelling economy is a less pressing concern. But here, a page of black is a necessary beat in the story. By giving a page or a double-page to these moments, we’re invited to consciously focus on how the book is making us feel.

Continued below

The feeling of any given sequence in ‘The Passageway’ is its most crucial element. By the time we are introduced to the sinkhole that’s the focus of the story, the visual motif of a central circle has already been well established, so even though it is a new element in the story, it already feels familiar. Jeff Lemire’s writing gives very little in the way of explicit details, and so these feelings become our primary way of navigating what follows. This is a key component of cosmic horror, where the reader is usually denied understanding. Yet there are connections everywhere in the form of recurring visual motifs, color associations, echoes in page layouts from earlier sequences—just enough so that we can feel certain of a connection, even if the how eludes us. Visual repetition is also used to express changes that defy the reader’s understanding to quantify in objective terms. For example, the sinkhole is repeatedly shown looking from above as a gaping circular darkness in the center of the image.

So when this familiar image appears again, but this time with rings rotated out of alignment with each other, we know that something has changed. There is something wrong, but in concrete story terms, we have no way of defining what that change is. We just know that it’s there.

If you read Lemire and Sorrentino’s “Gideon Falls,” then you’ve already seen these creators play with techniques like this, but I feel like “Gideon Falls” was more plot focused and these elements were more textural. In ‘The Passageway,’ they become the central focus. This is for readers that embrace ambiguity and the feeling of dread it can inspire.

OK, we’re diving into spoilers now. Jump ahead to the verdict if you want to remain unspoiled. I’ll also be discussing the relationship of ‘The Passageway’ to the Free Comic Book Day issue, “The Bone Orchard Mythos: Prelude,” so if you haven’t read the FCBD issue yet, I recommend you check out the PDF or CBZ of it here before continuing.

Birds

One idea that came through very strongly while reading ‘The Passageway’ was the idea of the sinkhole being an inverted lighthouse. It’s an idea suggested visually very early on by Sorrentino, then suggested further when Sal says she must “take care of the light,” which I had initially assumed meant the light at the top of the lighthouse, but after discovering that she instead spent the night outside by the sinkhole, made me wonder if she meant something else. On the surface her statement could’ve simply been a lie, but perhaps she thinks of whatever is at the bottom of the sinkhole as the light.

Inversion is an aspect deliberately invoked in the art, in particular through the use of Rorschach test imagery, but also through the bird silhouettes which appear as black against white or white against black, the sound effect “KAW” even appearing inverted at times. But it comes from more than that; it also comes from ‘Shadow Eater.’ While the inversion element is certainly present in ‘The Passageway,’ it’s nowhere near as prominent as it is in the prelude story, ‘Shadow Eater,’ so it’s likely that reading ‘Shadow Eater’ made me more aware of this element than I otherwise would’ve been.

‘Shadow Eater’ makes ‘The Passageway’ read differently. After all, it’s hard to ignore when the mask that features so prominently in ‘Shadow Eater’ suddenly appears in ‘The Passageway.’ Whatever motivations I imagined were at play in the malevolent force at work in ‘Shadow Eater’ were transposed onto the one at work in ‘The Passageway.’ The mask’s possible connections to the Babylonian king, Labashi-Marduk, in turn become associated with the mysterious underground temple in ‘The Passageway.’ And it seems like this is how Lemire and Sorrentino plan to build their universe going forward. When John Reed comes to the entrance of the temple, there is an inscription, “Beyond the veil of the dusk lies the Lord of Death sleeping under ten thousand black feathers.” Given that the next “Bone Orchard Mythos” story is titled ‘Ten Thousand Black Feathers,’ I’ll likely end up carrying over all my feelings that are tangled up with the birds in ‘The Passageway’ into ‘Ten Thousand Black Feathers.’

Continued below

At the end of ‘The Passageway,’ though I could follow John Reed’s journey through the story, I did not understand everything else, but the presence of this connective tissue is enough to make the tale feel both complete enough to stand alone and incomplete enough that I need more.

End of spoilers.

I’m curious to see how “The Bone Orchard Mythos” evolves, and not just because I enjoy this sort of cosmic horror story. Lemire and Sorrentino have spoken about how they want to use this series to explore various formats. ‘Shadow Eater’ was a one-shot, ‘The Passageway’ is a graphic novel, and both were told in ways that leaned into the strengths of their format. ‘Ten Thousand Black Feathers’ is a five-issue miniseries, but in interviews they’ve also mentioned the possibility of doing maxiseries and short stories too. Given Jeff Lemire’s recent serialized stories through his newsletter, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some “Bone Orchard Mythos” stories there too at some point.

For me, this is the main appeal of “The Bone Orchard Mythos,” that it is loose enough that the creators can take it anywhere they’re interested in exploring, that it’s open to formats outside of the usual monthly issue format. ‘The Passageway’ didn’t have to be a graphic novel, but in committing to that format, the creators told the story in a way that only a graphic novel can.

Final Verdict: 8.5 – “The Bone Orchard Mythos: The Passageway” sees Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino building on the shared interests they discovered while working on “Gideon Falls,” but on a canvas where they can explore and augment and reinvent however they see fit. There’s a vitality here that comes through in every page.


//TAGS | Lemire County

Mark Tweedale

Mark writes Haunted Trails, The Harrow County Observer, The Damned Speakeasy, and a bunch of stuff for Mignolaversity. An animator and an eternal Tintin fan, he spends his free time reading comics, listening to film scores, watching far too many video essays, and consuming the finest dark chocolates. You can find him on Twitter @MarkTweedale.

EMAIL | ARTICLES


  • Reviews
    “Cosmic Detective”

    By | Sep 27, 2022 | Reviews

    A seedy, dirty city. A stoic detective. A mystery beyond imagination. The Kickstarter backed “Cosmic Detective” is one of the latest works from comics legends Jeff Lemire, Matt Kindt, and David Rubín. Self published to allow them total creative freedom, this original graphic novel is one of the most interesting and sought after side projects […]

    MORE »
    News
    Image Unveils Lemire and Sorrentino’s “Ten Thousand Black Feathers”

    By | Jun 23, 2022 | News

    Image Comics have revealed “Ten Thousand Black Feathers,” the second installment of writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino’s ‘Bone Orchard Mythos,’ will begin this September. Colored by Dave Stewart, the miniseries follows Trish and Jackie, two “best friends and avid gamers,” who start to see “the line between reality and their fantasy world” become […]

    MORE »
    Reviews
    “Black Hammer Reborn” #12

    By | May 20, 2022 | Reviews

    A multitude of Weirds appear from across the multiverse to help the cause as Lucy makes a fate altering decision in the final issue of “Black Hammer Reborn!”Mild Spoilers Ahead!Written by Jeff LemireIllustrated by Caitlin YarskyColored by Dave StewartLettered by Nate Piekos of BLAMBOTAs the heroes from across the multiverse prepare for their final act […]

    MORE »

    -->