I was first made aware of Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Bone Orchard shared universe of horror on Free Comic Book Day. There was a promising opening issue and an announcement of a dozen stories that would interconnect but also stand on their own. This sounded like an incredibly ambitious project unique to horror comic storytelling. While I haven’t read the graphic novel Bone Orchard: The Passageway yet, starting with the first issue of Ten Thousand Black Feathers was a good way of stepping into this universe and seeing if the stories can really stand alone. And though I don’t think the comic being in a larger world is a problem, I do think the pacing leaves a lot to be desired in this first issue.
What definitely does work in this issue is the art. I wasn’t familiar with Sorrentino’s art before this, but I will absolutely be checking out more. Two different styles are being utilized here; one is dark and realistic, full of shadows amongst a backdrop of what looks like industrial smog. That is the setting of the present, in which a woman named Trish is coming back to her hometown and visiting the mother of her friend; a friend named Jackie, whose form is haunting Trish in her dreams. The other style is much brighter and cartoonish, shining a light on the more innocent days of the past. This is where Jackie and Trish first met and bonded over their love of stories. The colors by Dave Stewart set these two times apart, and it is clear that the tragedy involving Jackie has darkened the world for these characters.
What exactly it is that has happened remains unclear for now, and it’s there that this issue feels lacking. Granted, there is a lot this issue is trying to cover with Present Trish, Past Trish, and whatever supernatural element is involved. But after thirty-two pages of this story, it still feels like we are in a prologue. The issue literally ends with the dialogue “…then let’s begin”, and it does feel like this story will truly begin with the second issue. But with a mini-series that is only three issues long, that ramping-up point feels too late. This is a shame since Lemire usually has such a gripping force in his writing. And the dialogue here isn’t bad by any means. It’s just not moving the story forward in ways that it should.
Maybe if I go back and read The Passageway, then this first issue will feel more revelatory. But if that is the case, then this universe is already failing at its promise that any of these stories can be picked up and enjoyed on their own. It’s entirely possible that this overall series, and the overall project as a whole, can still be successful. But judging solely on this first issue, I am not convinced that this will be the case.