This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: Freaks Of the Heartland
This is another book in the “well this looks interesting” series that usually results in me grabbing, seemingly at random, a trade paperback from the shelves at my LCS. Freaks of the Heartland was originally published as a six issue miniseries around 2004/2005. The series was written by Steve Niles and Greg Ruth handled the art and lettering.
Freaks Of The Heartland is set in the 50’s or 60’s, based on the visual clues throughout the book, and tells the story of young Trevor Owen and his mysterious younger brother Will, a mysterious child who is condemned to live in the barn behind the house.
When I first cracked the cover, I was struck at how wonderful the art was – which feels like an odd statement given the subject of the book. Ruth’s work is frankly astounding. He is able to give you all you need to know about the characters within a panel or two at the very most – whether this is a facial expression, a gesture or their body language, this is a book where the words are almost unnecessary for your understanding of the story and the journey the characters are on.
Niles is known for his horror comics, and the story of Freaks of the Heartland has its origins in the horror genre. There is the hidden threat and ominous sense of foreboding are very present throughout this book, and right up until the very end you’re never quite sure how the cards will fall in the conclusion. Nothing is telegraphed, nothing is given away, and the ending is all the more powerful for that. I went into this book without any idea of the plot – I never bothered to read the back of the book, and so I won’t give you anymore plot details here than I have because there are moments and revelations that hit me as I turned each page that I don’t think would have had the same impact upon me had I been more cognizant of the plot when opening the book.
Instead, I hope you’ll take my word for it that this is an utterly fantastic non-superhero story that will make you rethink the power of sequential art as a story telling medium. I genuinely believe that this story, a story that is told in its entirety in one volume, is an example of what comics are truly capable of when you look past the cyclical nature of superhero stories.
I devoured this book in a single sitting and knew immediately that had it been released this year then there is no question it would have made an appearance on my Best Of 2018 list. At this point, I’m thinking I’m going to add some kind of “Best thing I read this year that wasn’t from 2018” category just so I can highlight the book once again.
I usually end this column with a recommendation to check out the book or series or movie in question, but I genuinely can’t recommend this graphic novel to you highly enough If you don’t grab this with both hands when you see then you’ll miss an Underrated gem.
Join us next week when we look at something else that is, for whatever reason, Underrated.