Review: Bone Orchard: The Passageway hardcover (Image Comics)

July 20, 2022

 ·  2 comments

Image Comics' new graphic novel Bone Orchard: The Passageway came to my attention for a couple of reasons. First, it’s by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino, the dynamite team behind a legendary New 52 Green Arrow run. At the time, each was doing great DC work on their own — Lemire writing a quirky, smart Animal Man, Sorrentino bringing detailed, moody art to I, Vampire — together they were clearly magic. I’m remiss, and will have to rectify, that I have not read their re-teaming on Image’s Primordial or Gideon Falls, but I was pleased to re-join them for Passageway.

Second is that “Bone Orchard” is the umbrella title for what’s said to be a “shared horror universe” headed by Lemire and Sorrentino and including graphic novels and miniseries — so, trades, trades, graphic novels, and more trades. I’d so like to see DC jump on this approach, what the Earth One books once seemed like before they petered out and/or had years between volumes — mainstream, part-of-an-ongoing-story OGNs, and pairing them with miniseries seems just the right approach. Consider like a Seven Soldiers of Victory schema writ large — a lead-off graphic novel, a variety of related miniseries, and then a graphic novel closing. Surely there’s a DC pop-up imprint that can swing that.

[Review contains spoilers]

For all those reasons I was keen to give Passageway a try. And I’m happy to read more from Bone Orchard, though if you’re on the fence, maybe wait for the next Bone Orchard book to join it before proceeding. We are big here on beautiful Andrea Sorrentino art, though we are small on a lot of other things — page count, plot, and answers, to name a few.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

Passageway clocks in at about four issues' worth of content. If you compare, J. Michael Straczynski’s Superman: Earth One Vol. 1 is reported at 136 pages, about two issues longer; Lemire’s own Underwater Welder is reported at 224 pages, about 10 issues long. Passageway, in short, is short, and it’s even shorter when you account for sparsely dialogued double-page spreads of luscious Sorrentino art. I picked up Passageway expecting to finish it in a couple of sittings, and instead read it all at once, and it probably didn’t take me much more than half an hour.

It may be a testament to Lemire’s wise restraint, but we don’t get much here to explicitly launch us into a shared universe — this is not a world particularly different than our own, there is not an overt threat that will clearly challenge others — this is not, at least obviously, the basis for a shared world a la The Walking Dead. The most looming departure point for future stories would be the granite world hidden under the island du jour, but it is not as though the book offers a true cliffhanger in that regard.

Of course, another aspect that contributes to Passageway feeling one-and-done is the fact that, in the style of any number of horror flicks, the book seems to end with both all protagonists and antagonists dead. Lemire certainly keeps it up in the air, with geologist John Reed escaping death a couple of times before he does finally appear to drown. It could of course be in a sequel that John is rescued by a passing boat, later bringing others with him to investigate the ruins down under. But in fact I rather like Lemire and Sorrentino subverting “TV pilot” expectations here, killing everyone off right from the jump.

It makes for, however, a graphic novel that is again both short and not particularly more expansive than your average ghost story. John arrives on the island, there’s something nefarious about the chasm that’s opened up, night falls, John spies mysterious doings at night, and then no sooner does the sun rise than the only other present character is trying to kill him. Some creepy visuals ensue, but then John ends up back at the same hole fighting the same person. It gives a sense of not really much happening in the book, movement-wise, after the halfway point.

And yet, Passageway rises high here — I don’t think Lemire would disagree — on the strength of Sorrentino’s visuals (David Stewart’s colors, too). There is, just in general, the ever-present gray sky that befits a cold island with a lighthouse. Add to that gorgeous aeriel views — the lighthouse, the forbidding hole in the ground — and Sorrentino makes Passageway positively cinematic. Then there’s Lemire and Sorrentino’s expert paneling, concentric circles to reinforce the spinning of a drone or the ever-present hole motif.

2.25

Rating

And so, again, Bone Orchard: The Passageway isn’t much, and it won’t take you that long to read. It is certainly beautiful, however, and certainly frightening, with effective jump scares aplenty and a couple truly chilling moments (“I don’t want to go yet …”). I do appreciate that Passageway is connected-but-self-contained, though I’m not wholly convinced that works to its benefit. We’ll see once it’s all a little farther along.

[Original hardcover graphic novel]

Comments ( 2 )

  1. Nice to see you review this book. I remember reading through this and thinking how creepy the art by Sorrentino is....heavy on the mood/atmospherics and featuring his unique layouts. The story at first read seemed quite straight forward, and reading it again, I realized there's more implied within the story. I guess I was expecting more world building for the first in what is to be a new horror universe. Instead we get a nice (seemingly) one and done tale with a few well placed jump scares......and some potential for future stories. I am definitely intrigued by this first story, but I thought Gideon Falls had a stronger start.

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    Replies
    1. For me, a lot will depend on how the next miniseries picks up on this book. More on the caves under the island? That'd be a good start.

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