Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino are setting out to explore horror in a brand new way with the shared self-contained universe of the Bone Orchard. Kicking things off is The Passageway, a 95-page graphic novel out June 15th introducing readers to a horror that blends reality with fantasy and extraordinary imagery that’s also very much grounded in reality. Similar to their previous works like Gideon Falls and Primordial–which are not part of this universe–The Passageway will reach into your amygdala, drawing out raw fear and unnerving dread.
The Passageway opens in a kind of dream, with Sorrentino depicting a woman falling in green strokes as if dancing or maybe even drowning. We soon meet our protagonist, John Reed, who is deathly white on a boat headed to an island with a lighthouse as its main feature. It’s a desolate, isolated island that holds secrets. Surrounding them is a cold dark ocean that may even send a shiver up your spine. The sky is gloomy and its depressing grays never let up. There’s a freezing nature to the visuals that establish a dread and mood that’s unmistakably devoid of life. If you grew up in New England you’ll relate to the visual feel of the story.
Soon John Reed is meeting the strange old lady on the island named Sal and she seems shifty and untrusting. So begins John’s inspection of a mysterious hole that seems to have no bottom. A geologist, John has the means to inspect the hole, but what if there is no answer to why a hole could be so dark and deep? There is a mystery here that invokes films like The Witch or His House. The land seems cold and dead, and there’s a sense of dread in the faces of the characters. Something is definitely wrong with the situation.
As the story goes, more is revealed, and Sorrentino brings some of his most impressive double-page spreads to comics ever. There are pages that will satisfy readers while also setting up a larger dark mystery. Sorrentino’s detailed picturesque style continues here from the textures of the lighthouse to the textures in Sal’s cardigan. Epic layout design continues to be a trend for Sorrentino which will delight longtime comics readers. There’s also a great play of color by Dave Stewart as well as black, and white in silhouette and in other ways. Even in the simplest of panels, there seems to be a lot to take in.
Steve Wands letters the book and is particularly good about the tails on the word balloons. As usual, lettering can be a bit invisible, but Wands adds a little extra something to the shape of tails in key scenes. Emphasis is also key which is great here.
There are different ways this story will scare you, from scary memories of John to deeply upsetting moments of voyeurism. The gloomy nature of the setting helps enhance a cold nature as if positivity and goodness are long gone. Ultimately that builds up the dread you’ll feel that permeates and enhances the scary visuals.
For those expecting a dense story, you may find this issue less appealing. There are multiple dramatic moments, but all told this story takes place over a short period of time. One can see how it may connect to other stories within the Bone Orchard universe, but there is the hope for more answers or direction, especially as an open salvo to the universe. That said, Lemire and Sorrentino have built up enough trust in readers that it will not be a problem. It’s safe to say, we’re in good hands.
The Passageway has the dread and horror we don’t often since in comics. It’s the kind of tale that you’ll put down and it’ll linger with you as you process deep and powerful emotions. The horror may ultimately lie in the darkly upsetting and uncaring element of the nature around us and how some services that nature for unnatural ends. The Passageway creates an intensity that’s unnerving and hard to turn away from.
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