The Bone Orchard Mythos—Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart’s shared horror universe of books—is a conceptually rich and promising project. The idea that the various standalone titles work together to inform a larger world is immediately engaging; the mind runs wild with the possibilities of some larger horror cosmology.
With only three stories delivered so far (a Free Comic Book Day one-shot called Shadow Eater, a mini graphic novel, The Passageway, and now the miniseries Ten Thousand Black Feathers), what readers shouldn’t expect right away is an overt interconnectedness to the projects.
There have been several books intent on imparting a larger universe from their inception that utilize a sort of dense implication of characters and concepts, almost all of them in the superhero genre. Books like Frontiersman try to force a complex and lived-in world, jam-packed with characters and allusions to their own self-involved history. At their worst, these types of stories try to shorthand a compelling complexity that took the Marvel and DC universes decades to cultivate naturally, which means every issue must be dense with unneeded gravity.
In their efforts with the Bone Orchard, the creators wisely avoid this sort of concept-cramming. The world populates itself as needed, organically establishing the larger whole. They do away with even the most sparse or implicative tropes—there are no allusions to Necronomicons, no suggestions of secret societies, no inherent scaffolding to connect the mask from Shadow Eater to the well in The Passageway. Seemingly, it takes more subtlety to express eons of horror than it does decades of superheroic whimsy.
Understanding that the most poignant horror is personal, Ten Thousand Black Feathers spends more effort establishing a single relationship than suggesting its own central horror. The creators have focused almost entirely on quietly creative Trish, growing-pained Jack, and their nerdy coming of age. It’s only here, in the third issue (halfway through the series) that the book begins to sink its teeth into the larger, darker mystery of the story.
The issue splits its time between an emotionally turbulent flashback and an informative confrontation in the present, both sequences finally leading us to understand Jack’s absence from the present-day narrative. Because that horror needs to be personal, the book understands that the reader needs to be deeply invested in the characters and their friendship before taking the brutal turn into concrete horror—we have to have hopes for their togetherness before we can see the moment in which they are separated.
We have to yearn for a kiss before we can see it rejected.
Lemire, Sorrentino, and Stewart excel in their given crafts in this issue. Lemire, balancing time periods and anticipation, subtly manages to seed vitriol into a confrontation the reader did not come prepared to experience. Sorrentino contrasts a past softened by youth and memory with the hard-edged darkness of a present life lived in grief and fear, going so far as to make even the memory of the tragically gone Jack jarringly separate. Stewart all but rose-tints the past, hammering home moments of silent revelation with stark, jarring red gutters.
Ten Thousand Black Feathers #3 lands the story’s turning point with a stark, near-wordless counter beat, a jarring jolt after moments of bittersweet disappointment and answerless investigation. There is no doubting that we’ve dropped into the ravine of horror now, after two carefully paced issues of emotional stage setting. With this climax, The Bone Orchard Mythos slowly begins to populate its shadows with quiet intrigue and fear.
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