I know Wicked (Wisconsin) Wednesdays is supposed to be over, but is it really any surprise that I’ve dug up another way to discuss Wisconsin and horror in the same post? Well, it shouldn’t be, anyway. But this time, though, we explore the relationship through a different medium: comics.
My husband bought the first volume of the “rural noir” Revival while we were in Edinburgh for our honeymoon. He read the entire thing on the short flight back to London where he immediately bought the next two volumes that he read shortly after. Revival has been on my to-read list for ages now, considering the premise certainly sounds a lot more my taste than his. But other things have somehow managed to get in the way.
Thank goodness I finally sat down to read this. After finishing the first collected volume of comics, titled “You’re Among Friends,” I immediately saw why this series called for such rapid consumption. Tucked in these pages is one of the most creepy, intriguing and haunting comics I have ever read.
Revival follows a premise that on first glace sounds familiar: the dead have risen and walk the earth again. Only creator Tim Seeley brings something new to the tale. The dead are back, but instead of the brain-hungry zombies we are used to, the revived dead remain much as they were before death.
The story centres around the central-Wisconsin city of Wausau where Officer Dana Cypress tries to balance her life as a single mother with impressing the local sheriff – her father. On the morning of January 2nd, several of the dead in the area came back to life. Somehow this happened in the small, unremarkable countryside of Wisconsin.
The dead coming back to life is obviously a massive deal to the rest of the world. Many religious zealots and scientists alike are trying to gain access to the small community, but it has been quarantined off. Meaning not only can no one get in, but no one can leave.
This creates a very claustrophobic atmosphere for the comic. The cabin fever the characters suffer from make them react in strange ways, especially when so much is left unknown about the dead who have come back, what the locals call “Revivers”.
Dana is asked to join the Revitalized Citizen Arbitration Team, a task-force that her father has started to deal with Reviver-related crime. She immediately botches things up when she brings her younger sister Martha (“Em”) to her first case. Her sister is stabbed by a scythe while trying to protect Dana from an attack by an elderly Reviver. But Dana soon discovers that she knows a Reviver personally when she watches Em heal before her eyes.
The two sister agree to keep Em’s state a secret, but the scene shows that Revivers didn’t come back exactly as they were. They have regeneratitve abilities that make them a bit more extraordinary than the average Wisconsinite.
Though there are more strange going-ons beyond the Revivers. Self-proclaimed demonologist Blaine is making his rounds around the area, “helping” girls who are pretending to be possessed. His motives seem to be quiet sinister as he’s mostly after the strange spirit/demon that seems to be wandering the woods of Wisconsin. He has a brush with Em when he takes journalist May Tao hostage. May was filming a cremation for an article when the Revivers first came back, making her at the centre of getting the story out to the wider world.
Volume one collects only the first five issues of the series, only hinting at the beginning of what is to be a much larger, deeper story. But these first five issues set up a story so fantastic. It’s only enhanced by the wonderful art of Mike Norton, who does such a great job of capturing atmosphere.
Much of what makes Revival so successful is the great attention not only given to the characters, but the setting. Seeley was born and raised in the small suburbs of Wausau, and the realism of the comic makes that so apparent. The dialogue and the characters are ripped right out of any small Wisconsin town. It’s filled with small details like the community of Hmongs that live in Wisconsin (it’s relatively unknown that Wisconsin is home to so many Hmong refugees, the third-largest in the country) and the strange, very Wisconsin way some people are stuck in the past.
In the foreword from Essex County author Jeff Lemire, he describes his feelings growing up in a small farming community, “And maybe it was just me, but death seemed to be everywhere when I was a kid. I can’t tell you how often I was stuck going to a funeral for a great aunt or a second cousin I hardly knew. …. it always seemed like someone was dying.” Further, he discusses a few of the more personal and traumatic deaths he had to deal with. This sentiment struck a particular cord with me. I knew that when I kept moving to bigger and bigger cities, the more people I met, I often realised that I had dealt with a lot more death than they had. Perhaps, like Lemire suggests, this is a part of growing up in a small town where families are often bigger and hardly ever leave.
But death is only a part of Revival‘s story. Much of it is also about what our lives mean to us. Whether that means our family or what we do with our lives while we live it the first time.
Revival is a truly gorgeous comic. I’m so grateful that my husband found this, as I will definitely be reading the next volume soon – and it’s not going to wait this time.
The series is still running, being published by Image comics. Issue #38 is out March 30th.