There was a time, early on, when Vertigo was considered more of a horror and dark fantasy line. Swamp Thing, Hellblazer and Sandman all being prominent parts of the first wave. Vertigo’s widened its doors considerably since then to include straight up crime and science fiction titles, as well as fantasy with a lighter tone. It’s never completely gone away from the horror side of things. The Wake is something of a genre bender that definitely has a horror element. The recently returned American Vampire certain fits the bill. And then you have a new addition to the line, Coffin Hill that really had me remembering the earlier days of the line.
With the first tpb now out (Coffin Hill Volume One: Forest of the Night), we’ve got a return to the more goth and witchcraft horror that’s been absent for a bit. Novelist Caitlin Kittredge is joined by artist Inaki Miranda for a nifty collection that plays around with a number of different horror conventions. Flashing between 2013 and 2003, Coffin Hill tells the story of Eve Coffin, heir to a witch’s bloodline in a Massachusetts town named for her family. The story opens with Eve, a hero cop in Boston, returning home after suffering a gunshot wound and discovering that all is not right in her hometown. It seems that back in 2003, teenage Eve and two of her friends went out in to the woods to do some magic they didn’t quite understand and one of them didn’t come back. The result of that spell is still in the woods and Eve needs to put the genie back in the bottle, so to speak… even if she’s not entirely sure what it is.
The storytelling alternates between modern day and flashbacks. The modern setting is horror meets detective as Eve reacquaints herself with her town, what’s left of the family mansion, and that thing in the woods she was trying to forget. The flashbacks are teen angst, black magic and a bit of goth. (When I say teen angst, I don’t mean to say this is over-exaggerated to the level of a CW show, its a bit more organic than that.)
The result seems like a convergence of Twin Peaks, Blair Witch and perhaps just a touch of Stephen King’s It. Twin Peaks because everything is taking place is the odd little town with layers of secrets in its history and I mean that in a second season, Black Lodge and Killer Bob sort of way. Blair Witch because of the unknown horror in the woods that does have a bit of history to it. And that touch of It for having the childhood flashbacks and a New England setting, rather than the Pacific Northwest, as well as Eve’s returning to her childhood home and processing the changes.
Black magic, family secrets, small town gossip — it would not be hard to see Coffin Hill reconfigured for TV into something aimed at the teen demographic — and then horribly overacted once filming began. By having the dual time periods, the accumulation of over-wrought emotion is sidestepped. Oh, you’ll get a little bit of it, but then things come back to the present and its more about the puzzle pieces fitting back together. Or, to use a basketball analogy, Kittredge and Miranda show it and then they take it away.
Now, given all the teen flashbacks, it should be pointed out this is R-rated material. Lots of blood and violence and bit of nudity at the climax (pun not intended).
All in all, a slick package with some genuinely creepy moments.
Recommended for fans of horror, particularly the black magic/witchcraft sub-genre. If you have an serious aversion to the CW-style, teen-targeted horror shows, you might want to flip through it first. I didn’t find it over-the-top, but a lot of those tropes are being played with.