Writer: John Lees
Artist: Ryan Lee
WHAT IS IT?
A psychological thriller in the vein of The Shining with elements of family drama and Lovecraftian mystery.
Think Twin Peaks meets Raising Arizona (From the point of view of the kidnapped child).
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
(Major Spoilers for Issue #1)
Noah raised his son Abraham not to believe in material good and to never trust anyone that wasn't him. Noah also raised Abraham to break into people's homes together and steal whatever they can get their hands on. In the midst of a break-in, they are caught red-handed and separated by the police. Though Abraham tries to remember what his father taught him, he has no choice but to listen as they tell him that Noah isn't his father – that he was stolen as a child and his real parents have been looking for him ever since.
Now forced to return to his birthplace, Abraham must meet his supposed birth parents and adjust to the life of a normal child. But around every corner in his snowy mountain home is another bizarre circumstance, and no matter what people tell him, he can't shake the feeling he's being lied to; nor can he shake his dream of an eye within the mountain, watching him throughout the night.
Meanwhile, Theo Halbot, a local man thought to be lost and dead, returns from the mountain, a lone survivor of a large group that he claims were ripped to shreds by a giant. Feeling some connection with Theo and the other strange events in town, Abraham resolves to search the mountain woods and discover the truth of what's going on around him. But is the truth knowable, and what kind of danger will Abraham put himself in by looking for it?
John Lees's script is invisible amongst the terror and mystery surrounding Mountainhead's intense story. This doesn't sound like a compliment, but the worst thing a thriller can do is make the audience aware of the structure supporting it.
Artist Ryan Lee's intense, rough lines and caricatured features perfectly match and intensify the manic, deranged subject matter.
Doug Garbark's cool color palettes and muted tones create the familiar suspense of early horror comics and modern David Fincher films.
Shawn Lee's lettering is ostentatious and creative, particularly in the splash pages. Against the oppressive tone and art style, this already brilliant text is amplified and genuinely impressive even for a seasoned industry professional.
The paneling throughout the book is creative and puts the reader in the same mindset as Abraham; claustrophobic, uncomfortable, and constantly on edge. It's incredibly well put together.
On the same note, the art style is overly detailed and reminiscent of an early 70's underground comic. Aside from feeling unique in the ultra-polished style of the mainstream, it works well to establish an eerie and chaotic tone that benefits the overall experience.
Genuine horror is difficult to instill in a reader, but Mountainhead consistently delivers unsettling moments and can easily creep out even the most jaded horror reader.
There are some cool homages to classic horror/thrillers that fans of the genre will enjoy and those uninitiated will find brutal and unforgettable.
Even minor characters are deliberately layered and well-realized, which gives a sense of permanence and reality to the otherwise generic setting.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
This comic is not suitable for the young or squeamish; there's quite a bit of gore and implied body horror.
The setting of a quiet, snowy mountain town is fairly typical in this genre. While the rest of the comic gets points for originality, this feels uncharacteristically lazy.
What small feelings of triumph and joy the story generates are generally undercut by a sense of foreboding and the sense that something is wrong. It's exactly what the story is going for, but it can make for a bit of a heavy read.
While the overly detailed and caricatured art design is brilliant, it can also be exhausting to read through. Reading all five issues in a trade is going to feel like reading Moby Dick in one sitting.
The font is a bit small, which makes it hard to read digitally without zooming in quite a bit.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Mountainhead isn't a book for everyone, but it's a must-read for those who can stomach its content. It's compelling and dramatic without feeling forced or hackneyed; it's a thriller that doesn't show its hand and a family drama that doesn't kill the reading experience with cliche. The art is brilliant and unlike anything on the market right now.
I don't have much else to say about it – it's just a well-crafted thriller. If you can't handle gore or suspense, it's definitely not for you, but if you loved Gone Girl, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Shining, you'll love Mountainhead.
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?
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