Writer: John Lees
Illustrator: Ryan Lee
WHAT IS IT?
The story of a boy who's been through a lot, a man who survived a tragic climbing expedition, and a town that's about to see a lot of trouble.
"Mountainhead" reminds me a lot of the movie, Frailty. A slow burn brimming with tension on every page.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Abraham robs houses with his dad. It's the only way they can live off the grid, one step ahead of the mysterious government agents after them. At least, that's what Abraham's father has told him, anyway.
Meanwhile, another man stands on a mountain, not far from some kind of horrific accident. We don't know who he is, or what happened to him or what may have been his climbing expedition. But we wonder if he and Abraham are connected in some way.
There's not much more I can say without getting into spoilers, so I'll just end it there!
The comic's opening is eye-catching and mysterious, and the way the opening credits are drawn like plateaus on the mountain is such a unique and immersive effect.
Also in this beginning part, the captions feel three-dimensional, with snowflakes in front of them and behind them. It's a subtle-yet-smart way of creating a multi-layered experience.
The artwork is so unique – hyper-detailed, but in a style that leans toward caricature. It's cartoonish, yet too real, and because of that, it almost leads to a sense of anxiety that enhances the issue's events. The illustrations feel raw and gritty, which instill it with a good amount of emotion.
Is it strange to say the the sound effects were one of my favorite parts of Mountainhead? I'm not sure if letterer, Shawn Lee, or artist, Ryan Lee, were responsible for the incredible, innovative, textured sound effects in this book. They're so fully immersed in the art in a way you don’t often see unless the illustrator also takes over lettering duties.
The general lettering was also well done, leading the eye naturally, even in moments meant to be read in untraditional directions. But the little flourishes make it even more interesting, like dialogue or captions without balloons, or how the speech bubble copy's blurred in one scene because it's just too much to take in for the character.
Lee's panel layout can be traditional at times and then very untraditional at others, a tactic used to highlight instability, build tension, or show a tonal shift. Sometimes, panels get split into two panels with big, organic sound effects in between. These, combined with flashes of demonic versions of panels against the mundane reality ensure the tension rises and rises throughout the issue. Doug Garbark's color work is crucial in these scenes, and the hot, bloody reds use bring that sense of very real and near danger.
Panel pacing also builds that tension. Writer John Lees uses that, combined with page turns where the scene changes, to make the reader feel as unbalanced as Abraham. Reveals aren't built up to like in other comics and feel intentionally oddly timed to add to the title's unnerving tone.
The way Lees writes Noah, you almost get where he's coming from, at times. He names many problems that truly are wrong with many of our "first-world" countries and their institutions, and you agree with him. At least, at first.
The recurring use of the evil eyes shown on the cover mark what seems like insanity (AKA "Mountainhead"), but it's too early to say for certain.
Ryan Lee speaks volumes through his characters' facial expressions and body language. There's a scene where some characters look happy and relieved while another looks distant and miserable, and you don't need any words or context to get how everyone is feeling at that moment.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Violence makes this not the best book for kids.
The word balloons are on the smaller side, which can make it difficult to read if you're on your phone.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you like psychological horror/mysteries, Mountainhead should be at the top of your reading list. Its thrills and twists and turns build and build, ensuring you have no idea what to expect, and that makes for a reading experience that feels fresh and thrilling and exciting.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Sink by John Lees & Alex Cormack
Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire & Andrea Sorrentino
The Replacer by Zac Thompson & Arjuna Susini
If you like the art:
Archer & Armstrong #9 by Rafer Roberts, Mike Norton & Ryan Lee
Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest & Ian Bertram
Extremity by Daniel Warren Johnson
ABOUT THE CREATORS
John Lees – Writer
New Face: Though fairly new to comics, he's been putting out a lot of great work, especially with titles like Sink
If you join his mailing list, you get a copy of his comic, Deep-Ender, for free
Outlander: Hails from Scotland
Ryan Lee – Illustrator
While most of his work has the detail and grit you see in Mountainhead, not everything he creates uses that caricature-esque styling
Doug Garbark – Illustrator
Some of his favorite comics writers are Robert Kirkman, John Layman, & Frank Miller
Shawn Lee – Letterer
Multitalented: Also practices design & illustration
HOW DO I BUY IT?
Issue #1 hits shops August 28th.
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