With a discernably old-school horror comic concept, a sense of lighthearted ambition, and very minor connection to the world of Stephen King, Refrigerator Full of Heads is a book that takes the goofy, emotional horror of Joe Hill and Leomac’s Basketful of Heads and cranks up the absurdity knob. This, sadly, comes at the cost of some of the sweet, lovely character nuance of that first book. It also teeters on the edge of overexplaining the deep mystery that makes a good supernatural horror tale.
You see, Basketful followed June Branch, a young woman in the throes of young love, thrust into the horrible situation of being hunted by convicts (escaped from Shawshank, mind you). Before we get to all that—and the magic axe at the heart of the story—we experience a lot of remarkably earnest interactions between June and Liam, her boyfriend, and the law-enforcement family with whom he’s been staying over the summer. Each one of those characters (well, excluding the body-count convicts) has some form of solid identifier and delivers decidedly honest-feeling dialogue, devoid of many long-winded periods of exposition.
Under the view of new creative team Rio Youers, Tom Fowler, and company, Refrigerator stamps flat much of that character depth to make way for a wider, less intimate story. Where the first series deals with June overcoming the shock-inducing horror of her predicament and the ancient axe she begins chopping men down with, this series pulls the camera way, way out from any singular situation or character. A grand design is being examined.
In issue #3, we deal with the cartoonishly locomotive disembodied head of a biker (still conscious of himself, of course, due to magic axe malarkey), a corrupt sheriff and the two Department of Defense agents who are ostensibly our main characters, a sniveling mayor and the Biker Queen who has usurped him, and an abducted June being confronted by mystical exposition she’d fled between the two series.
It’s a lot, but it isn’t exactly too much—it’s simply a different type of story, riding closer to that ‘town as cast’ sort of model one might see in one of Joe Hill’s father’s thicker volumes. It’s ambitious, looking to understand wider forces converging on the small island on which the story resides (Brody Island, which we learn this issues isn’t far from other King Family staple location, Little Tall). [a quick disclaimer, here, that it’d be unfair to lean too heavily on Hill’s father in relation to Hill’s own work–it’s included in this story merely as a fun fan-service, not to undermine Hill’s own prodigious career].
It’s fitting, of course, for Youers and Fowler to stay away from recreating the first story—it would be boring and redundant to do otherwise—but it is worrying how dead set this issue is on explaining away one of the biggest compelling mysteries of that story by providing an origin, history, and full-on loot set for June’s decapitate-them-but-keep-em-alive axe.
It all seems like an info dump that robs the story of some of its magic (ironically by pumping in more magic). All that said, however, it might only be an aspect of that ever-widening lens. With several issues to go and all the potential for further receptacles to fill with heads in later miniseries (dumpsters full of heads, Halloween treat-bags full of heads, industrial trash compactors full of heads), the series may only be doing the hard work of any horror sequel: providing precedent for a long-running franchise.
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