The mystery of Ms Thorne’s role in some of the simmering story threads in the series so far are revealed in the wake of her victory in the Mayoral race in Freetown and the seeming dispersal of some of her acolytes to the larger world. Meanwhile, Zeke and his family launch a desperate search for a missing Andrea, who may be playing a larger, scarier role, in Thorne’s designs for the town and Jedidiah’s designer plants.
If you’re looking for something fresh, organic and juicy delicious from your local comic book grocer, you can’t go wrong with Rob Guillory’s Farmhand. The comic, written and drawn by Guillory, crafts a chilling and timely story of biotech horror set within a backdrop of a slowly simmering family drama in a rural New Orleans town. The comic takes the classic themes of science gone amok, of humans not taking a moment to ask ‘should’ instead of ‘could’ that’s been explored in other stories like Jurassic Park or Battlestar Galactica and makes it feel fresh, relevant and fabulously comic-booky in all the right ways. This review rates issue 5 of the series, but also tries to evaluate the series as a whole up to this latest installment.
A good story sprouts from the seeds of some good characters(yes, I will be liberal with the farming puns here, sue me) and Guillory populates his version of an American Gothic with some truly interesting and well-drawn characters. Ezekiel, arguably our protagonist and seeming stand in for Guillory, is understandably concerned about his dad’s farming business, both because of how strange it really is and because of some unresolved issues concerning his mother’s death that has some heretofore unrevealed connection to the technology that his father has developed and exploited. ‘Zeke serves as a good POV character for the reader, as his concern and horror at some of the goings on at the family farm (should) match our own. His sister Andrea is also given some strong stakes and characterization, as we find out she really is spying on her father’s farm in exchange for a more hand’s off approach to her father’s farm from the US government. Her divided loyalties make for some interesting reading and drama. Guillory also crafts young characters, typically a hard thing to do in my opinion, as convincing children without making them too obnoxious in the process. Giving the youngest kid in the family Riley ‘Batman’ (a spy who tried and failed to steal some corporate secrets from the farm masquerading as a student in the town) as a friend is also a good choice and a nice way to develop a one-off disposable character into something more interesting. Jedidiah’s (the patriarch figure of the story) nonchalance to the utter strangeness and discomfort generated by his creations only add to the already (appropriately) cloying atmosphere of horror in the story. That he either hasn’t thought about the implications of what he’s done or worse, that he has perhaps thought about it and didn’t care, truly chills. The sense of normalcy he exhibits during an ‘implantation’ scene effectively shows just how much he needs to ask himself the question of ‘should’ rather than ‘could’ about his work.
Guillory’s pacing and economy of storytelling also serve this comic very well. What could have been a boring and obvious info-dump in issue 1 that needed to establish and explain the high-sci-fi concept of a ‘body organ farm’ is wisely presented as an ‘It’s a Small World’ type Disney ride. Hence, rather than being bored and felt ‘info dumped on’, we instead get a fun scene with our main characters experiencing the ‘ride’ with us, feeling their awe, anxiety, and amusement as we, and they, learn about what this farm is really about.
Guillory also doles mystery and resolution in good and balanced doses that keep the story flowing, interesting and satisfying. The two-fold revelation in issue 5 about Monica Thorne, that she was Jedidiah’s scientific partner who helped him initially develop the Jedidiah strain and the more shocking reveal that she is now (and hasn’t been for a while?) not quite human anymore, exemplifies this quality by paying off some story threads laid out in the past four issues while establishing some really interesting directions for the series to explore when it returns in the spring (which feels like a really fitting time for the series to return, COINCIDENTALLY). What exactly caused the fallout between her and Jedidiah? When did she start experimenting on herself and what exactly has the Jedidiah strain done to her? AND, Far more chilling and significant to our ongoing story, what are the implications of her election as Mayor and the revelation that she, and not the farm, has been the one who’s been spreading the Jedidiah strain around town? The reveal that Thorne may be the big bad of the story so far makes sense given what we’ve seen of the character in the past and wonderfully re-frames some of the story beats I’ve already made decisions about. It’s a revelation that’s dropped in just the right time and in a way that wonderfully reaps all of the story seeds planted from the last four issues. (I warned you).
Guillory’s designs and aesthetic for this comic is also truly a highlight, particularly in how it effectively transmits the ideas and feelings it is attempting to evoke in the reader. There are plants that ‘grow’ different body parts; flowers eerily growing replacement noses, tubers that grow kidneys and lungs, vines growing fingers and even plants designed to produce more adult and shall we say, aesthetic, enhancements. The strangeness of this discordant visual, the utterly bizarre and horrific concept of a literal ‘body farm’ set in an ‘all normal, but FOR’ setting of a farm evokes a kind of body horror I haven’t felt since my first viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing. The more exaggerated features of each main character’s design also feel appropriate for a story that’s dealing with a setting and concept that is simultaneously really ‘extra’ but still down to earth.
Guillory’s cartoony style would, on the face of it, be seemingly out of place here, but it works beautifully. The exaggerated facial design and expressions of the characters help to sell the comedic moments of the story; a necessary tension-busting component in a story that deals with some pretty scary ideas. The animation-like and really fluid art style also helps to make the readers feel the full impact of the more physically horrific parts of the story, such as when we see what a body-part implantation session is really like or when a certain Mr. Fuzznuts imbibes on some hybrid body-organ plants. The sense of movement and kinetic energy in Guillory’s art really sells the sense of bodily injury and violation that’s occurring on these pages.
Guillory tells a good sci-fi/horror story about that age old notion of human hubris in a new and relevant setting, with it’s own kind of timely and relevant monster, populated with interesting and well-drawn (in all senses of the word) characters. With Issue 5’s (and the first arc’s conclusion), Guillory’s saga is poised to go into overdrive and I can’t wait to see where and how it goes.
Farmhand #5: Farm Fresh, Juicy, Comic book Goodness
Writing - 8.5/108.5/10
Storyline - 9/109/10
Art - 8/108/10
Color - 8/108/10
Cover Art - 10/1010/10
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