Written by: Jeff Lemire
Art by: Andrea Sorrentino
Coloured by: Dave Stewart
Lettered and Designed by: Steve Wands
Edited by: Greg Lockard
I’m quite a dedicated Jeff Lemire fan, I think it’s fair to say almost all of us at BTC are, and I’ve enjoyed his collaborations with Andrea Sorrentino, Gideon Falls in particular. However, I’ve often been concerned that some of their other horror work takes on a very similar style. Their DC Black Label book Joker: Killer Smile for instance. Recently the duo brought us Primordial, which benefited from being a science fiction story and moving away from horror, the change in direction preventing the kind of repetition that is sometimes present. With that in mind, I’ve been somewhat apprehensive about the launch of Bone Orchard as a kind of horror shared universe from the two creators. Apprehensive mostly as I was hoping for a wider variety in the stories the duo would be telling going forward, and the similarities between some of their previous work suggested that we might not get that.
So with that being said, unfortunately Bone Orchard: The Passageway brings back some of the feelings I had towards Killer Smile. Particularly in terms of art, I’m finding this to be a little too close to Gideon Falls. While I appreciate that Andrea Sorrentino’s art style is more than likely going to look pretty similar to his previous work, I think one of my complaints here comes from the choice to use some similar visuals that could have perhaps gone in a different stylistic direction. If you’ve read Gideon Falls you’ll know exactly what I mean when you see it.
On my first read through I felt pretty lost after the establishing pages, I was expecting a story that was as much an investigation into strange happenings near a lighthouse as seeing those spooky happenings. However that’s not really the case here, almost as soon as John Reed sets foot on the island the narrative turns to increasingly odd interactions with Sal (the lighthouse keeper) and as John begins his investigation into the suspicious hole – or passageway if you will – that’s appeared on the island, he’s quickly met with strange interference on his drone’s camera before falling headlong into a surreal journey through his own past sparked by a few different kinds of Underworld mythologies put together.
I think a large part of my disappointment with The Passageway comes from the fact that it does have a strong start, we’re introduced to a protagonist en route to investigating a strange happening on a small island containing only a lighthouse and its keeper’s residence. In classic Jeff Lemire fashion, we’re immediately given some background on our protagonist; seemingly his mother drowned and now he’s not a fan of water. From the first few pages I was immediately invested, but it just doesn’t take very long for the narrative to come off the tracks. Usually I would expect Jeff Lemire to deliver on excellent character work while Andrea Sorrentino’s artwork supplied terrifying visuals that stick in your mind. However, that really doesn’t happen here, it feels like both the creators are relying on their previous work to get me invested rather than creating a new, interesting horror story.
While there’s some imagery that bears similarities to Andrea Sorrentino’s previous collaborations with Jeff Lemire, his artwork has some real stand out moments; for example the recurring bird motif works well in particular to create an individual aesthetic for The Passageway. I especially liked the use of bird silhouettes as panel borders on some pages and the way they’re repeatedly present, which ties together John’s past and present experiences. Sorrentino’s layouts remain interesting throughout, as they do in all of his work, he never fails to change up the page format and the panels he uses, which keeps The Passageway varied and constantly changing.
I love Gideon Falls, and that might just be part of the problem here. I think if you’re coming to The Passageway without having read Lemire and Sorrentino’s previous books together you might enjoy this more than I have.
I think The Passageway would have benefited from being more than a hundred page graphic novel. There are moments that feel like they could’ve been chapter breaks and I think if this had been six single issues it would’ve allowed for some breathing space while also adding some extra pages to flesh out the story and characters further.