Review: Bone Orchard: Ten Thousand Black Feathers hardcover (Image Comics)

June 5, 2024

The Bone Orchard Mythos: Ten Thousand Black Feathers

Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Bone Orchard Mythos remains an experiment to watch. Shared universes are nothing new, though as I’ve noted before, the authors' emphasis on graphic novels and miniseries — that is, graphic novels and graphic novels initially published in parts — feel like the approximation of a trade-waiter’s dream, if only the books would come out a little faster. It is not as though, at this point, DC and Marvel aren’t publishing shared-universe graphic novels in the form of weekly collections releases — they are — but my perception of Bone Orchard as “trade first” makes me want to root for it.

The second full entry and first miniseries, Bone Orchard: Ten Thousand Black Feathers, is not quite as strong as the first graphic novel, The Passageway, though it is revealing in how it demonstrates the shape this project might take over many iterations. That is, what we see and don’t see in common between Feathers and Passageway tells us quite a bit.

The more expansive miniseries format of Feathers makes it less scary, I think — Feathers is not hurtling at breakneck speed, and I think it generally makes the jump scares less effective. At the same time, this volume demonstrates clearly where each Bone Orchard project can act on its own and where it will intersect with the whole, and that’s both interesting and makes me eager for the third story already underway.

[Review contains spoilers]

It’s late in Feathers' penultimate chapter that a great tunnel — dare we say a “passageway” — is revealed in the basement of a suburban home and all the pieces begin to fall into place. Setting aside the bird feathers and the grinning skulls and the hooded deity that all share imagery with Bone Orchard: The Passageway, it is the hole, same as the hole that’s opened outside a remote lighthouse, that connects the two stories. We expect now holes can open anywhere, in any genre, bringing madness and creatures and horror, and thus Bone Orchard suddenly fits seamlessly into whatever Lemire and Sorrentino might dream up.

[See the latest DC trade solicitations.]

For much of the book, Feathers seems an origin story, that the imagination of a fictional world by one or two teenage friends birthed this dimension with the power to control and kill. Perhaps the book’s most chilling moment, a page before the reveal of the hole, is when an answer to where the the ideas come from — “Just sort of comes to me” — is recontextualized; we thought the kids were creating the world, but now we understand the world was revealing itself to the kids. To an extent, “which came first” is immaterial — whether Jackie named the bird creature “Corvus” or Corvus put its name in Jackie’s head, we can still put a name to the mammoth, many-armed, skull-faced being — but again this speaks to how Bone Orchard can manifest across genres. We’re not even tied to an origin when Corvus can manifest itself across many minds in many places.

Feathers, then, sees Bone Orchard set against a coming-of-age story, with two young women who grew up best of friends. The authors spin a familiar “nerd’s lament” — Trish needs nothing more than she and Jackie’s role-play gaming while Jackie’s drawn to her newfound popularity. Jackie disappears on the night she rebuffs Trish’s declaration of love, and later, an adult Trish returns to their small town secretly fearing she herself caused Jackie’s death. First love, death, growing up — the classic elements a la My Girl are there, just with added naked, bird-faced murderers.

There’s an interesting undercurrent early in the book toward the idea that two is a crowd — that is, no sooner does Trish share the idea for her fantasy world with Jackie than Jackie begins to take it over and it’s no longer Trish’s pure ideal any more. I’m certain no claim is being made, but it’s a meaningful paradigm for a book with both writer and artist as creators; verily exactly what goes wrong for Trish and Jackie must have gone very right for Lemire and Sorrentino given their long and fruitful partnership. Though Trish loves Jackie, the message we get here (perhaps again in that confusing adolescent coming-of-age way) is not to give of oneself, that sharing only leads to your own dissolution.

Again, we see now Corvus, and some of its minions grow more familiar. Jackie’s mother Terri reminds of Sal from Passageway, even if only in that both are minions of Corvus and both are cantankerous older women. Whether that’s coincidence or design remains to be seen — Corvus could have witches, for all we know, out guarding its passageways across the world. Too there’s questions of Jackie’s absent father and also Trish’s parentage, whether any of that too is coincidence or by certain design to bring these people to this place.

Sorrentino remains an impressive, emotional artist, given particularly to the moody, shadowed, photo-realistic scenes that evoke so much of the horror. He makes a small town look plenty creepy, though there just didn’t seem as much room in this story for the kind of sweeping overhead landscape shots like Sorrentino did in Passageway. At the same time, as Bone Orchard seems as much a vehicle for Sorrentino to challenge himself, I did appreciate Sorrentino’s mixing of styles here for the kids in their youth versus adulthood, and sometimes layering each on the same page, reminiscent of JH Williams on Batwoman.

Again, Bone Orchard: Ten Thousand Black Feathers isn’t quite as scary as Passageway. The book is still plenty unsettling, sure, but in the familial drama and getting to know the characters a little more, plus general lack of bodily harm to the protagonists, there were many — maybe too many — moments of calm. Compare with Passageway, more of a slasher flick, where page turns reveal grotesque faces and John Reed’s getting hit with shovels and canes and axes and swimming in oceans of blood. Feathers is closer to swords and sorcery, maybe a bit of Dark Tower mixed in.

[Includes original and variant covers, including — I love it — the most incongruous of Spawn variants]

Rating 2.5


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