Gideon Falls #1 advance review
It’s difficult to say what Image’s upcoming Gideon Falls will be, but its debut issue—in comic shops and digital on March 7—offers two compelling characters and a complex mystery that make me want the rest of the story. Frequent collaborators Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino are joined by Dave Stewart and Steve Wands for a verbally tight and visually striking book that deserves a closer look—so let’s dive in.
A wayward priest and a mental patient walk into a barn
I’ve long enjoyed Lemire’s imagination, but I think that he sometimes gets caught up in awkward, dialogue-based world-building. Gideon Falls #1 has a tiny dose of this, but I’m struck by how little we know about our primary characters—and their plight—by the end.
Father Wilfred is a Catholic priest sent on a new assignment to Gideon Falls. The dialogue indicates sone sort of moral disgrace in his past, but we get only a few spare clues on the subject in the course of the issue. The artwork sets Wilfred’s new church in the midst of flat farmland, but it’s difficult to place Gideon Falls any more specifically than that.
Norton is a seemingly-unemployed man under care of a psychiatrist, obsessed with collecting pieces of debris from the trash of his city. Neither Lemire nor Sorrentino make it clear which city. Perhaps it’s Gideon Falls, or perhaps it’s some other place—there are reasons to suspect either.
The plot is likewise shrouded in mystery. We learn enough to develop interest, but Lemire leaves most questions unanswered, ensuring that we tune in next time. This sort of story is right up my alley, as I would much rather form my initial opinions about characters by watching them in action than by hearing it from their lips. And to me, I observe both Wilfred and Norton to be good men with different sorts of flaws, each with his own unique set of struggles. Wilfred has become disillusioned by his own failures, and strikes me as a man of faith in name only. Norton has supposed psychiatric challenges, but his quest to find meaning in the garbage of his city has made him a believer of sorts, and he can sense the evil lurking beneath things that Wilfred perhaps cannot. How the two ultimately meet somewhere in the middle should make for a very interesting story.
Sorrentino’s work is always striking, with highly-realistic forms rendered with spare detail—like an image obscured by haze or impaired vision. This occasionally produces indiscernible elements, but not frequently enough to hurt the storytelling, and it’s a tradeoff that I’ve always found worth it when I encounter his art.
Colorists typically complement this aesthetic with desaturated tones, which also enable the occasional shock of highly-saturated reds. Stewart doesn’t do anything particularly novel here, but that’s perfectly alright. The colorist’s work may be easier to see—and understand—than the letterer's, but it is still a trade in subtlety and restraint, something more noticeable in failure than in success. There are several panels—particularly in Norton’s world—that feature incredibly intricate detail, and Stewart handles it beautifully. He clearly gets Sorrentino, and does a fine job of elevating what’s there in the lines, as well as adding texture in open spaces.
Letterer Steve Wands gives us his take on the borderless word balloons that seem to be a la mode these days, and it works, for the most part. The color shift necessary on light backgrounds always gives me pause, and there are a few instances of that here. I’m also not crazy about the non-tapered balloon tails. I don’t think they look that nice to begin with, and—more importantly—they draw attention to themselves. Needless to say, I shouldn’t be looking at tails while reading a comic.
Sorrentino and Wands together produce an incredibly readable book. Beyond being visually interesting, the artwork is layed out expertly. Sorrentino’s paneling and choices of perspective help regulate pacing, even when there isn’t much text on a page to slow things down. I also appreciate that Sorrentino’s panels tend to be conventionally-shaped. His cinematic layouts can sustain the story without more elaborate spreads, and those moments where he does break out into something less rigid have a far greater impact in limited use.
When Wands has more text to work with, he takes full advantage of generous panel sizes and stretches the scene with wide balloon placement. Sorrentino leaves him plenty of options—freedom which a less-capable letterer might misuse—but Wands handles it perfectly.
Should you get it?
Gideon Falls #1 is a fantastic debut for a series brimming with potential. The writing is some of Lemire’s best, and Sorrentino, Stewart, and Wands translate that into a bleak, beautifully-rendered world whose uninviting aesthetic nonetheless draws you in. Time will tell if this story holds up as its mysteries are uncovered, but its debut is about as good as it gets.