From the SPX stack: ELK’S RUN 1-3

Elk’s Run is a creepy B-movie of a comic. I mean that as a compliment. If it’s a bit crude in its manipulations, it’s pretty effective all the same.

In it, an experiment in utopia is falling apart, as they always seem to do. A group of people have isolated themselves in Elk’s Ridge, a West Virginia mining town, shielded from what they see as pernicious cultural influences like television, alcohol, and police. It’s not that they have a specific era in mind that they’re trying to recapture; they simply know what they don’t like about contemporary life, and they’ve been fortunate enough to find a benefactor who will sustain the town according to its own standards.

Things start to fall apart when the next generation reaches adolescence. They’re old enough to be bored by the confines of Elk’s Ridge and to dismally wonder what the future holds for them. They mouth off and sneak out in the dead of night. During one of these nocturnal excursions, one of the kids is killed by a drunk driver. The man, Arnold Huld, is drunk and distraught after being abandoned by his wife and children, and he faces the lethal retribution of his fellow citizens (all according to the town’s charter).

One of the kids sees his elders in action, and state troopers come in response to a call from Huld’s wife, reporting his disappearance. From there, it’s all about the citizens of Elk’s Ridge rising to defend the sanctity of their community. The tension builds progressively, and cracks start to form between generations and neighbors.

Each issue is told from a different perspective. The first issue follows John Jr., one of the teens. The second gets inside the head of his father, blurring together scenes of his war service with his response to the crisis in Elk’s Ridge. He sees himself as a pragmatist and a patriot, unconvincingly denying that he’s taking any pleasure in violence or retribution. Issue three is perhaps the most creepily effective, focusing on John Jr.’s mom, Sara. She’s a real monster, demonstrating none of her husband’s apparent uncertainty, relishing her authority in the community, and taking unsettling pleasure in doing what needs to be done. Things really click into place when Sara’s in the spotlight.

I think Joshua Fialkov’s overall story works a bit better than individual moments. For example, the teens’ fondness for obscenity seems a little unlikely, given their restrictive environment. And the war-and-home contrast reads as somewhat heavy-handed, though it does get its point across. But there’s definite momentum and tension in each chapter, and it grows nicely from one issue to the next. Falkov’s choice of a West Virginia mining town for his setting is a thematically inspired one, given the sad history of outside influence on those communities.

Noel Tuazon does nice work with the visuals. There’s a firm sense of place, essential for this kind of story. His character designs serve things well. The people of Elk’s Ridge look like the crowd at a county fair. Tuazon uses a nice variety of line weights, too, heavier on the more explosive moments, more delicate in subtler sequences. Coloring by Scott Keating contributes tremendously to the shifting, unsettling moods.

If Elk’s Run isn’t perfect from page to page, it’s got enough control of tone and plenty of pulpy energy to carry it through. It’s also got a very solid premise and some intriguing ideas at its foundation. I’m looking forward to future issues.

(Initially published by Hoarse and Buggy Productions, the mini-series been picked up by Speakeasy for the remainder of its eight-issue run. Speakeasy is just about to release a bumper edition collecting the first three issues and some bonus material, but I picked up the singles at a ridiculously low price at SPX.)

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