Jeff Lemire is one of the best comic writers today, putting out consistent work in both output and quality. The first volume of Gideon Falls spent most of its time teasing us with a Stephen King style story where a small town held many secrets. Only by the very end did things spin into a hallucinatory nightmare. While it’s intriguing to be given a lot more surrealism in vol. 2, a charm is missing this time around.
To please the gods of parallelism, Lemire follows Norton Sinclair and Father Fred, each of whom have a reluctant female sidekick. Norton is convinced they need to rebuild the Black Barn while Fred tries to make sense of #6, as well as track down a kidnapper, but also ask around about the town’s history.
As you can tell, there’s a lot more happening with Fred’s subplots — perhaps a bit too much. Each of these subplots are interesting in their own right, but once one is established, the next bumbles its way in. The cluttered nature of these threads is highlighted further by how, in contrast, focused Norton’s story is.
Getting more specific, Father Fred discovers a good deal about the eponymous town, but far too much of it is dumped in exposition. Oftentimes, the less we know, the better. The first volume held us in constant suspense by holding information away from us. Instead of letting details slip gradually in vol. 2 (excuse, me, “Season Two”), the sheriff’s father gives us the entire lowdown on the new villain. Unfortunately, there are other scenes with equally blunt exposition.
While Father Fred and the sheriff’s relationship works fairly well, Norton and his doctor’s subplot is less impressive. Starting out as a skeptic in charge of a possibly insane, OCD afflicted man, she’s now a holding his hand and joking about how much he likes whipped cream. Yes, characters are supposed to change, but it has to feel motivated. Just because she experienced nightmarish imagery doesn’t mean she should be wanting to get a room with this guy.
There are a lot more supernatural occurrences going on in vol. 2 and they’re not handled as well. Most of the surreal touches lack invention and feel all to familiar. For instance, there’s a scene where Father Fred is giving a sermon only to find out — what a unique shock — it was all a vision! Why? To gift-wrap a plot-point for the hero instead of him doing the work. Sounds bad? Fuggedaboutit — it’s magic.
Much of Lemire’s work in the past has stayed away from clunky dialogue, so it’s especially perplexing why it’s so unwieldly here. In one respect, the dialogue doesn’t work because of goofy lines like the whipped cream one. But far more pressing are the cliché lines and awkward phrasing. The Smiling Man harasses Norton with the same rote lines of pseudo-ominous phrasing: “Come to me,” “They want to keep you from me,” “Come to the dark,” etc. Equally mediocre lines come from the heroes, especially when they point-blank exchange their traumas. Lemire has never been Joss Whedon, yet the dialogue is now so terribly functional, merely existing to convey information through hackneyed lines.
On top of that, the dialogue can sound unnatural. For some reason, Lemire seems allergic to contractions. You could argue it’s intentional, a choice that distances us from this already weird world. But even if that’s true (which I doubt because there are some contractions)…it doesn’t read well. For example, “Dr. Xu, you cannot go in there!” or “But we are well past the point of skepticism here!” I know a couple of lines doesn’t convey much, but you’ll feel the weight of the dialogue when you read a whole trade of it.
I don’t like the word “unique,” but Andrea Sorrentino’s art doesn’t look like anything else in the Western comics market. His art is most defined by textures. Every surface, except perhaps a kind face, appears scuffed or withered. His art isn’t traditionally dynamic or expressive, although that’s to this series’ benefit. Although, a problem arises with facial expressions, which are often porcelain, especially poor Dr. Xu.
Despite all the problems with Gideon Falls Vol. 2, it’s still an engaging read. The pacing is taut and you’ll likely fly through the issue, quickly turning pages to get to the next reveal. The character dynamics can be messy and mishandled; that being said, the protagonists stand apart from each other with strong personalities.