The village comes under attack in Gideon Falls #21 from Image Comics. Reality comes under attack as well, as Clara finally rediscovers her brother Danny. Monsters from beyond the bounds of our reality begin to break through as the full horror of the Black Barn and the Laughing Man is unleashed in an orgy of violence, bloodshed and insanity. Who makes it out alive? Find out in our Major Spoilers review!
Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Andrea Sorrentino
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Letterer: Steve Wands
Editor: Will Dennis
Publisher: Image Comics
Release Date: February 5th, 2020
Previously in Gideon Falls: Danny’s obsessive search for the Black Barn kicked off a nightmare run through alternate realities, time travel and an alien entity inimical to humanity. Along the way, Danny discovers who he truly is and draws into his story a myriad of people who join him on his quest to save the world.
Wow. Just…wow. Gideon Falls #21…just…what…wow.
I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre, his 30,000 foot view of the horror genre during his lifetime, into the early 1980s. In it, Stephen King outlines how he aims to scare the reader – “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud. ”
In Gideon Falls #21, writer Jeff Lemire goes for all three, and succeeds like nothing I’ve read in a long time. Terror, horror and the just plain gross war for attention during this issue, each perfectly balanced against the other to create such a symphony of anxiety and existential dread that they must sing it in Hell.
Reality comes unmoored during this issue, as the two main storylines begin to converge. In the Village, Father Fred and Dr Xu watch their future selves confront an incursion of what look to be giant cockroaches, as the protections surrounding the Village fall apart. In our reality, Sheriff Clara and Deputy Tom are called to the local mall, where they discover terror beyond their wildest imaginings. This is the point where the Laughing Man, a body hoping entity, emerges in its fullest, foulest horror.
The first few pages of Gideon Falls #21 are a masterclass in terror, horror and the gross. The massacre at the Mall is depicted in all its unflinching horror, a pile of bloody bodies calling back to the recent horror of mass shootings in America. But the true terror comes witnessing the Laughing Man floating above the bodies, its unhinged jaw hanging low as it issues threats to Clara and Tom. This soon morphs into the grossest thing I’ve seen in comics in a long while, as the Laughing Man vomits its essence into Tom, transferring itself into him.
Lemire exceeds even his lofty standards in this issue – the pacing is pitch perfect as the action switches between the Village and the Mall, as the storylines converge. Even this far into the series, while the broad outlines of what is going on are apparent, there is still a massive air of mystery around what exactly is happening and why. Giant cockroaches scuttling over the hills towards the Village is on the one hand a surreal experience, but also terrifying as well. The sheer unnaturalness of them, their implacability while in a killing frenzy, is deeply unsettling because it is all so very, very odd. Back at the Mall, the looming menace of the Laughing Man adds another layer of horror to proceedings. In one memorable scene, the creature breaks its own neck, collapsing to the ground before rising once again to torment the police officers. It is the creature in this issue that feels the most Lovecraftian, a creature of pure spite whose destiny is to destroy the world simply because it can.
Andrea Sorrentino’s art adds to the air of unease and menace. The almost photorealistic artwork is just the other side of uncanny. A demonic entity hovers over the murdered bodies of dozens of people in a mall’s otherwise ordinary space. Giant cockroaches rampage through a village. A possessed human is shot to pieces yet keeps on spilling its hatred over humanity. Looking through the artwork in Gideon Falls #21 feels a lot like you’ve embarked on an epic acid trip, while desperately trying to hold together your shattered mind at the same time. Everything feels that much more vibrant, that much more real, that much more tantalising than anything you’ve seen before. It is a remarkably unnerving display of artistic prowess, and surely deserving of some sort of award.
BOTTOM LINE: NIGHTMARE FUEL
Terror and horror and the gross out all have their place in Gideon Falls #21. They make the issue that much more re-readable, that much more engrossing, that much more disturbing. Discovering what is going in is definitely an earned experience for the reader. Time folds in and itself as reality collapses around it. Life appears to be on a continuous loop, and if the characters don’t understand what is happening at ‘this’ point in time, by the time they get to ‘that’ point in time, they, and the reader, will have come to an understanding. Gideon Falls #21 is an exhilarating experience undergirded by some of the most frightening imagery you will have seen in a very long time.
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Gideon Falls #21
First you realise that everything you thought you knew was wrong. Then you are horrified by the realisation which soon turns to disgust at the lies the universe has told you. Gideon Falls #21 flips your understanding of the world so that by the time you regain your feet, nothing will be the same again.