Harrow County tells the story of Emmy, a young girl who’s on the eve of her eighteenth birthday in the early 1900’s when she discovers there are monsters in the woods surrounding her home, monsters that she learns she’s connected to. Written by Cullen Bunn (The Sixth Gun, Deadpool Killogy) and drawn by Tyler Crook (B.P.R.D. Hell On Earth, Bad Blood), Harrow County is currently being developed by the cable station Syfy (home of Bitten and 12 Monkeys) to be an ongoing television series. Have I piqued your interest yet? Yes? Good. Because we’re ten issues in…
The series opens with a bang showing an accused witch, Hester Beck, getting hanged and torched before she puts a curse on all those present, swearing to come back one day. Our main character Emmy is then shown waking up after dreaming of the tree the witch was burned at. We quickly learn that Emmy isn’t the typical farm girl she appears to be. Her father comes to get her saying their cow gave birth to two calves but when they go to see them, one is horribly disfigured and the other looks sick as well. Enter Emmy, who with a touch heals the calves right before her father takes them out back to be shot. She later ventures into the forest surrounding her property and finds a living skin! No bones, no organs, just a birthday suit that can walk and talk…kinda.
She opts to take the skin home and places it in a drawer. Emmy cleans herself of cuts and dirt she acquired from following the skin, called a Haint, in the forest. When her father shows up she quickly makes up a story as to why she has gashes and cuts, only to find out that she has completely healed and her father is now suspicious. That night she wakes up from another dream, with this dream showing her being birthed by the tree that the witch hanged from. The Haint then rustles the drawer open and starts talking to Emmy, revealing that the rest of the Haint’s body resides within the trees. From there, the Haint tells her there is a large group of people approaching her home, which Emmy sees out her bedroom window. That’s when the Haint drops the bombshell of what these people are saying…they’ve come to kill her.
She’s able to escape and finds her friend, Bernice, who helps her get away from the townsfolk by heading into the forest. There they run into all kinds of creatures ranging from more living skin to flame ghosts, and even the rest of the Haint. Turns out they all obey Emmy’s every command, which freaks Bernice out but hey, when you’re thinking your friend is the reincarnation of a witch you probably don’t want her mad at you. It’s revealed that Hester Beck was the mother of all these creatures and since Emmy is apparently the witch incarnate, they obey her. They also eventually run into her father who regrets his decision to tell the townsfolk about Emmy, with the whole exchange leaving us wondering if her father is going to attempt to kill her or himself.
The first arc then comes to a close with Emmy admitting to herself what she is and more importantly realizing she can’t stay on the run or live in the forest forever so she heads into town to confront the townspeople. They are not pleased with Emmy’s speech but her father and Bernice back her up and more importantly she threatens to use her witch powers on anyone that harms her.
The second arc begins with the townsfolk embracing Emmy, despite her feeling like a complete outsider. They send her gifts thanks to her healing powers and her ability to control the creatures that wander into town like a Goblin she finds in the attic of a shop. She decides to cut a deal with the Goblin allowing it to stay and get fed by the shopkeeper as long as it doesn’t cause trouble. This begins to make the townspeople anxious as they feel like the creature should’ve been removed, especially since they are already unhappy to be dealing with the Haints. It’s at this point one of the townsfolk asks Emmy to curse a man who has been “eyeing up” his wife. This angers her and she tells the man never to ask her to do such a thing again which, then in turn, angers the man. Emmy then meets up with Bernice and they talk about what happened as well as Emmy’s past. They both have a strong bond that builds as they prepare to weather any storm that comes their way. That is right around the time when woman arrives claiming to be Emmy’s twin sister!
So…Emmy’s twin sister, Kammi, she’s a lot like Emmy but at the same time, vastly different. She embraces the idea of Hester being their mother, probably because her upbringing in New York wasn’t very family oriented. Emmy of course doesn’t agree with The Witch being her mother, regardless of what powers she might have. Kammi heads into town on her own and runs into the disgruntled man from the previous issue who mistakes her for Emmy, like the other townsfolk already are. Kammi learns of what happened only after he pulls a knife on her. She agrees to help the man, not out of fear of course but simply because she enjoys using her powers, so sure enough she curses the fellow who had been looking at the man’s wife and meets the man’s wife looking like a walking dead weed. It’s then that Kammi tells the townsfolk she’ll be helping in ways Emmy never would.
Emmy is enjoying time with her Pa. The townspeople haven’t been hassling her and she thinks they don’t need help but in reality Kammi has been doing all the favours, especially the ones Emmy turned down. Finally though, Emmy can’t ignore the signs as her and the Haint head out to find Kammi. Kammi, who has been meeting up with all the ghosts and ghouls that Emmy would not let do as they wished, liked the kind Haints and began rounding them up for a war. To Kammi, Harrow County is her home and Emmy is wasting her powers, so she plans on running her out-of-town.
Emmy ran from Kammi and her creatures up until she reached her creature friends that would defend her. Kammi’s butler caught her and seemed poised to kill her until a creature stepped on him, this wasn’t a friend of Emmy’s but rather a creature that didn’t like the idea of Kammi trying to buy their loyalty. She ran home to find Kammi impersonating her and about to kill her Pa. Emmy is pulled under the floorboards by some roots that drag her to the tree where Hester Beck was burned. As Kammi is about to kill Emmy, Hester springs from the ground pulling Kammi down and all Emmy can do was watch. The next day, while fixing the house with her Pa she can’t help but wonder if she wished for it all; the sister, her possible death, and whether she will ever return.
The next issue deals with the Haint’s back story. He follows a song that leads him to a vagabond who describes himself as the “boogeyman”. He takes the Haint back to his home, or old home, where he sees a boy that looks exactly like him. The man tells him that Hester grabs the Haints out of dreams, that’s why they don’t know their name, because they aren’t even dead. The Haint wakes the boy, screaming to tell him his name. The scene then shifts to Emmy waking up to blood on the floor and the Haint in the corner. He tells her about the man and how he tried to get him to turn on her just so he can learn his name, but he didn’t do it. He couldn’t do it, he’s loyal to Emmy and only her.
After that little aside, the third arc of the story kicks off with Emmy and Bernice taking a stroll through the woods, when they get close to Bernice’s town, an old wine making county named Mason. The two friends say their farewells since Emmy is taboo in Mason County and they don’t want anyone to know that they are friends. Meanwhile a young boy, Clinton, and his Uncle Early are picking berries when they find a snake, which gets away after Early tries to kill it but not before it bites him. Clinton notices his uncle acting strange and when he unexpectedly leaves in the middle of the night he asks Bernice to help track him down. They believe he was summoned to Old Lady Lovey’s house, a presumed witch in Mason County that no one sees but everyone is afraid of. When they check out her basement they see her standing over his body with a bunch of strange jars around the room. If they weren’t sure before, they are now. The jars are an obvious sign, she’s another witch!
In short, Harrow County is a great horror story written by one of my favourite writers in Cullen Bunn who does some of his finest work with this book. Tyler Crook’s water coloured art style at first was interesting and original but faded as the issues rolled on. I started appreciating it more and more though at the same time. Now I can honestly say it was the perfect choice for this book. It’s taut with tension, as every panel you see you slowly unwinds the mystery behind it and I for one am looking forward to it. Want to read Harrow County for yourself? The first two trades are available at Big B Comics which collects the first eight issues so make sure you grab them next time you head down to the store!