North 40 Review (Graphic Novel)

Title: North 40
Writer: Aaron Williams
Artist: Fiona Staples
Letterer: Rob Leigh
Publisher: Wildstorm
Release Date: November 16, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2849-1
MSRP: $17.99

What happens when darkness envelops a small county Interstate Highway 40? With a tentacular monster slithering his dark tendrils throughout the life of this community, nobody can escape from their home, and few are staying their same, boring self. Your neighbors can now see through pictures, or slither up walls, and a few of them can now fly and have super strength. They’re less superheroes in spandex and more mutants in t-shirts in North 40.

Wildstorm started this six-issue miniseries last year, featuring the citizens of a small rural town having to deal with and fight off the advances of Cthulu. It’s a unique take on the Cthulu mythos, which at times seems more Syfy Channel Original Movie than DC Comics Limited Series. The series is headlined with three characters, Sheriff Morgan, quickly-deputized Wyatt, and witch-in-training Amanda. They each have their own characteristics, with the Sheriff being ready to tell you what to do and capable of putting bullets in some of the monsters inhabiting the town. Wyatt grows from unsure kid to heroic deputy, while Amanda stays her base level of sassy throughout.

The series starts with everything normal for rural America, ignoring the “Hot Topic” style of witch and her idiot lackey wishing to unleash literal hell on Earth. With their words starting the invasion of Cthulu into our dimension, many of the residents transform into something demonic, while a few, such as Wyatt, manage to gain beneficial powers. From there, a strange ease and acceptance of the mutations occurs; nobody can leave the town, and sure, some people are slicing people in half, but many just have extra eyes or squid legs. They’re not harming anybody. Still, the threat of Cthulu has to be stopped, and it’s up to the unlikely trio of Amanda, Wyatt, and Sheriff Morgan to take down the dark lord.

Aaron’s writing and concepts are entertaining, if only marred by the insistence on using dialects in text, commonly with “don’cha” and “unca'”‘s. While it makes sense for the locale and the class, it still stutters the dialogue when you have to deduce what’s being said. The true stand-out of the book is Fiona Staples’ art, and it’s not hard to see why she’s an Eisner-nominee. It seems that rarely, if ever, is inking done on the book, instead opting to color directly on the pencils. It’s a real beautiful, slightly sketchy style, that definitely works for a book that isn’t the traditional comic book styling.

If anything that isn’t stylistic can be complained about, it’s the meandering of the plot. The story can’t decide if it wants to be an action or horror suspense title over the course of it’s six issues. For a few pages, characters could be running from a giant monster robot or shooting at Cthulu with some laser pistols, and at other times, it’ll allow you to recoil in horror at the generic civilians getting ripped to shreds or the beastly appearance of some of the former citizens. This isn’t a total annoyance, but it’s a little slow in it’s five issues, and while it reaches a conclusion, it’s left open ended for future stories that may or may not come.

North 40 offers an interesting combination of Cthulu and rural towns, comic book heroics and demonic forces. While the story has it’s highs and lows, undoubtedly, it’s strongest feature is the art of Fiona Staples. Still, it’s an interesting concept that would hopefully be returned to at a future point.

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