Review: Basketful of Heads hardcover/paperback (DC Comics)


Gripping and irreverent, at times both exploitative and progressive, a tribute to and send-up of classic slasher flick mores, Basketful of Heads is a bold statement about what’s to come from writer Joe Hill’s Hill House Comics imprint from DC Black Label. Whether the other four series in the initial run uphold the same, whether there even is a “what’s to come” for Hill House (only one series has been announced past the initial five) — really, all the existential questions about DC Comics' pop-up imprints — still remains to be seen. But Basketful of Heads (I can’t be the first one to say this) is a basketful of fun, and certainly compels me to check out Hill House’s next offerings.

[Review contains spoilers]

Basketful sees comely coed June Branch chased around an isolated island by increasingly desperate criminals, drawn successively, suggestively soaking wet by artist Leomacs, in the tradition of thrillers since time immemorable. But June also wields — expertly, absurdly — a magical Viking axe that separates heads from bodies but leaves the heads conscious, such that June moves dizzyingly at times between the roles of victim and killer, not to mention such questions as whether June is insane, if all the disembodied heads are just in her head (so to speak), and whether the real “monster” is the crazy axe-murdering girl.

Such is the rich stew that Hill puts us in, not to mention a mystery in which not even the chief antagonists understand the whole puzzle. June is the unexpected witness to an elaborate scheme where the police chief and bigwigs of Brody Island plan to torture a young summer visitor, June’s boyfriend Liam, whom they believe to be an FBI informant. Each of Basketful’s successive issues, and each testimonial as to Liam’s actions, creates further distance between what June and the reader thought was true and Liam’s seeming double life, until June alone puts the pieces together in the final pages.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Basketful is merciless in questioning what’s real — whether June’s visions of talking, disembodied heads are real, whether June and Liam had a true romance, whether anyone on the island is telling June the truth. But even the island’s corrupt cabal don’t know what’s real. Complicit in their own crimes or hiding their own secrets, fueled by the idea that Liam has been secretly recording something, they’ve each imagined their own worst-case-scenario and use it to justify their own bad deeds, even as no one is right. They’ve all been victim of their own paranoia, and as it turns out none might have encountered their decapitated end if they’d just (yes) kept their heads.

Pointedly, Hill introduces June as bubbly, overtly sexual, and also a psych major studying men and violence. In the course of the story, June is offered many examples — Sal Puzo, Ned Hamilton, Hank and Wade Clausen. The story turns on a full genre of male fears that lead them to do bad — fear of not seeming “manly,” fear of not being able to protect their family, fear of loss of political, sexual, or financial power. But again, in the end, all of this is imagined; the misunderstood conflict driving it all is by a woman, for a woman, against a woman, an intentional thumb in the eye of the male tropes on which the story is built.

Though part of Basketful’s appeal is its done-in-one nature (notwithstanding a loosely connected forthcoming sequel), one wonders about a longer series that deepened the connection between June and her decapitated heads. Where Basketful really looses its genre is when June chops off an antagonist’s head and they inevitably become (notably split from their bodies and therefore also their manhoods) one of her advisers. Most of this involves plumbing the depths of the mystery, and no sooner is the immediate danger solved than June tosses all three heads off a bridge with barely a farewell. An alternate path, perhaps ill-advised, would see June traveling cross-country investigating the mysteries of the axe, heads in tow, with the heads' past lives growing more detailed — Hank’s failure to live up to his father, Puzo’s closeted life, and so on.

Though there’s no few amount of decapitations in Basketful, of course, such are depicted by Leomacs if not relatively bloodless (an artful “explosion” if not always a blood spatter) then relatively painless; no one seems suffer physical pain more than a panel. Indeed, even the story’s potentially goriest moment, when Hill has June cut off her own thumb, takes place entirely offscreen, and we’re not made to suffer any of June’s hurt nor hesitation. The most unsettling parts of this book, perhaps appropriately, are instead what we imagine — our own imagining of June’s trial, perhaps, or the early sequence where Puzo considers his fate were he to be cast into the water to be slowly, consciously, eaten alive by sea life.



Basketful of Heads ultimately belongs to a club, not small but certainly not large either, of girl-saves-boy horror stories, and even then Joe Hill subverts expectations. We don’t see whether June purposefully or accidentally (due to a crashing boat) lops off Liam’s head, but she hardly seems upset about having done so. After a night of men who’ve in one way or another treated women badly, even Liam’s sins of inaction seem too much to let lie, and we presume June takes her revenge. When horror is at times about evil versus good, the murderer versus the trying-not-to-be-murdered, in the end from June on down nearly no one in Basketful is without sin, victims and killers both.

That is heady (sorry) stuff for a horror-thriller, and lays down a gauntlet for what the other Hill House titles have to live up to.

[Includes original and variant covers, character sketches, writer and artist interviews]

Comments ( 4 )

  1. Insightful as always. I quite like Basketful of Heads and thought that the titles in this series were quite good....reminiscent of Vertigo Horror, but with an added edge. Who knows what's up with any of DCs imprints other than the main line and Black Label.....but I would hope that with Joe Hill's name recognition.....they would continue with his line of books as that would reach more people (and more sales) through bookstores.....

    1. Find it kind of worrisome only one additional book has been announced; I'd think if Hill House was really continuing, there'd be a whole other "wave." But maybe it's folded into DC Horror.

    2. True, it doesn't look good in terms of more books in this line. Is the other book Sea Dogs that you are mentioning? The odd thing is that I thought I heard that, that book would only be available with the boxed set that is coming out this month. I hope they release it I have all the Hill House hardcovers and this is the one book they didn't release in that format.

    3. Referring to Refrigerator Full of Heads — new creative team, new characters, same axe. That’s all that’s new from Hill House, which is something but not a lot.

      Would like to see Sea Dogs released on its own too.


To post a comment, you may need to temporarily allow "cross-site tracking" in your browser of choice.

Newer Post Home Older Post