MOUNTAINHEAD, ISSUE #3
Writer: John Lees
Artist: 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. Also, other movies, but saying which would give away too much.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT?
Noah is doing everything he can to get back to Abraham, who's still having trouble acclimating to his new, old family.
Theo Halbot also seems to be having trouble acclimating to his family, ever since he came back with a case of "mountainhead," being the lone survivor of his expedition.
The tension is building in both storylines, and there also seems to be some tension building in the town they all share, as well. But why? What's going on?
Reader, you're about to find out. And that's all I can say about that.
John Lees has been doing great work building tension over the last two issues. It takes a lot of control, finding just the right balance to make that tension effective while still moving plot and character development forward, but Lees leans into it like a pro, and it pays off in spades this issue.
As we've seen previously, the credits page continues to be innovative and award-worthy, merging the credits with the art in ways that will wow you.
Abraham has a complicated relationship with his parents, that's no surprise, with all he's been through. But how that's presented feels genuine and authentic. You get where he's coming from, knowing everything that's happened that his parents haven't been privy to. However, you also see things from his parents' side easily, with how they're presented, and that feels so real. It had to have been challenging to make that come through in such a way, but hearing from the mom helps humanize her in a way that feels genuine for parents and gives the character nuance.
Ryan Lee cares about the details, something that's clear as day in his detailed style. Those readers willing to spend a little extra time with the scenery are rewarded with little discoverable elements: a sad, surprised-looking mask left soaking on the stairs; a book titled HECKBOY left on a shelf; little inserted panels of oars hitting the water, setting the scene and building tension when characters are rowing a boat out on a lake; a BLESS THIS MESS sign, ironic and humorous and mundane and antithetical and perfectly fitting for the scene.
That's not the end of Ryan Lee's impressive work this issue. He uses panel position and gutters to build tension, like in the page below, or to show two characters meeting in the middle (both on the page and symbolically) – the latter is also helped by Shawn Lee's balloon positioning. The tension he builds between characters is palpable, specifically between Ryan and his crazed father. The latter looks like he doesn't even blink anymore, even though blinking isn't really an action we see in comics.
Doug Garbark's color in one scene talking about Braeriach is cleverly applied. Yellows turn to red as we realize what’s happening in one group of panels. Cool blues and hot reds contrast the heat of the city against the snow outside. The monologue throughout seems peaceful and aspirational, but darkly humorous or ironic against its accompanying visuals.
It doesn't stop there; Garbark's colors and line art are intensely menacing this issue.
WHAT DOESN'T WORK?
This comic is not suitable for the young or squeamish.
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.
The font is a bit small and uses mixed-case letters, which makes it hard to read digitally without zooming in quite a bit.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Mountainhead has walked a fine line of tension that pays off in spades this issue.
If you've been reading it and waiting for the other shoe to drop in the plot, you'll be rewarded this issue.
And, if you haven't picked this series up yet? It's time to change that. Mountainhead is expertly executed horror crafted by a team who works terrifying magic together. Don't miss it.
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 – Colorist
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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