Revival: A Rural Noir

I’ve been getting back into comics in a big way, and I’ve spent the past few weeks mainlining Revival: A Rural Noir. It’s a book from Image that finished its run in February with issue #47. It’s written by Tim Seeley and the art is by Mike Norton.

The plot of this comic is one that has been the subject of a number of recent TV shows: in a small town in the middle of the country, the dead have come back to life. In this case, however, they are not zombies, but seem to be the same people they were before. A number of them aren’t aware, or don’t admit, to being dead and pass for regular people. But of course there’s more to it than that.

The overall mystery is what’s going on with the return of the dead, but the main narrative mystery that ties to the characters is the murder investigation of Martha “Em” Cypress, which is carried out by her sister, Officer Dana Cypress, all while keeping Em’s death a secret from their father, who happens to be the sheriff of the town. This is all happening while the town Wausau, Wisconsin, is under CDC and military quarantine due to the mysterious circumstances.

So that’s all the setup, but how does this book work as a story? Functional, but uneven. Depending on the issue, it usually ranges between C- to B+, which is a pretty large range, but it is an unbalanced book. Revival shines when it really narrows in on the family aspect with the sisters and their father. Unfortunately the rest of the town isn’t handled so deftly. Exes come into the picture, as do neighbors, local cranks, and other figures you find in a small town like Wausau. The problem with them is that some of them show up too early, and some too late. The core of the story is clearly the Cypress family, but as the town fleshes out past the early issues things simply become muddled. There’s an anti-government activist/terrorist who gets into a bit of a duel of wits with the sheriff, but his involvement hinges on far too many coincidences, and his real importance ends up being a MacGuffin for his daughter’s actions in the latter portion of the story. Some of this could have been solved if the creators had split the narrative a little more evenly among various townsfolk and families, peppering in some slice-of-life story lines rather than introducing people only when needed by the plot.

This problem, of things spinning out of control of the writer as the plot expands, is probably the comic’s biggest downfall. Early setup doesn’t quite pay off, and feels fulfilled through too many coincidences. As the military takes over and the sisters have less page time, things come off the rails a bit. While the comic is by no means restrained, the violence escalates, and random elements are thrown into play. An example is a mother-daughter team of Amish ninjas. Yeah, you read that right. Ninjas are often put into comics because they can strike an amazing pose and it gives the artist some great movement options to play with, but that doesn’t mean a comic needs ninjas. This is doubly true when the ninja in question isn’t Asian1. And while there’s eventually a little thematic payoff, I couldn’t help but constantly think that these characters didn’t need to be ninjas, didn’t need to be Amish, and didn’t need to be in the comic at all. But if the book wanted to add this much violence then it might have wanted to eschew the “rural noir” tagline it has and move toward a more Americana horror tone to warrant the blood.

But that’s all the worst of it. I did dedicate the time to read through 47 (why is the series 47 issues?) and while there are disappointing aspects, Revival is still a good book that had managed to fly under my radar until it was completed. As I said, the Cypress sisters are great characters and well worth spending the time to get to know. They establish the books main theme of family, one that fades a bit in the middle third of the run but comes back strong (sometimes a little too strong) in the end of the series.

The series also features some of the most gorgeous showpiece cover art I’ve seen since Saga. Nearly every cover looks great, and many are outright stunning. Craig Thompson starts out the series but  Jenny Frison takes over and does some astounding work. If I’m being honest, her cover work is what put this book in my hands when I was just considering it for my next series.

Is the cover art enough? No, but this book is more than just great covers. It’s great art inside and out, great characters sometimes under-served by the plot, and an ending that manages to wrangle everything back under control. It won’t win non-comic readers to the form the way something like Saga will, but it’s a solid title that’s a bit off the beaten path.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I was cautious when Michonne arrived in The Walking Dead.
Adam

About Adam

Adam is a Jewish American who’s sick of the white Christian male being America’s “default” setting. For money he works in a public library because free books and information access is wonderful things. For love he writes here for his pet project, The Chaotic Neutral, which is always looking for more writers. You can follow him on Instagram, Goodreads, and at his oft neglected Twitter where he will try to post more, and probably live-tweet the Eurovision Song Contest.

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