Unsettling. That’s probably the best word to describe the horror in Basketful of Heads. It’s not the kind of book that will make you scream out loud, or haunt you in your dreams, but it’ll stick with you. Perhaps it’s the characters. Joe Hill really appeals to your sense of empathy. There isn’t much conventional horror in this comic, but by the time it’s done, you know June, Liam, and their relationship like the back of your hand. Before things get scary and uncomfortable, they’re quaint, fun, lighthearted, and a little bit problematic, kind of like the 1980s. There’s a lot of horror media referencing the ’80s lately, and this one does it just as well as any of them. I’ve never been drawn to the referential side of horror myself; I can understand the appeal of tipping a hat to great stories before your time, or the puzzle of finding each and every reference, but if it’s something I have to pay attention to for the full experience, it’s difficult for me to get invested. Basketful of Heads doesn’t feel like that. Its references are largely for fun and respect and less about the significance to the narrative.
It could also be the constriction. Leomacs and Dave Stewart make a brilliant use of white in this issue, the gutters and page borders feel extra wide in places. The borders and walls are extra defined, as though they are constricting the characters within the panels like they’re constricted on this island. You may not notice it at first, but there is an inescapable sense of feeling trapped. In some panels characters speak over a white background while in others, the panel sizes are uneven, so there is extra white space at the bottom of the page. It all adds to the unsettling feeling and contributes to this feeling of being trapped with nothing around you to turn to.
Leomacs also uses a lot of defined and coarse line work. It will remind you of the serialized crime comics you may see in newspapers such as Dick Tracy, and that makes sense considering a story about escaped criminals fits within that wheelhouse. There are zero double page spreads, which helps keep the book small and grounded. The first half of the issue is cheerful and full of humor, but as the sun begins to set, the danger begins to rise. Emotions of humor, joy, and love turn into frustration, anxiety and fear, and yours do too. The creative team does a great job of toying with your emotions that way.
When everything around us is referencing the ’80s, Hill is here to show you how it should be done. Hill, Leomacs, Stewart and Bennett bring a fresh take to a popular trend, exploring fear behind entrapment and a very human threat. The book is a visual throwback, with Leomacs and Stewart using the palettes and textures of old and to create a a wonderful reminder of pulp horror comics that once were. This book is a great start to DC’s Hill House imprint, showing that this line can produce captivating stories that readers can get invested in. Basketful of Heads is a great return to comics from Joe Hill and a good sign of what’s to come.