February 27, 2014

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The Dancing Dead Rats in The Remains #1

Written by Cullen Bunn
Drawn by A.C. Zamudio
Colored by Carlos Nicolas Zamudio
Monkeybrain Comics


The Remains #1 is one helluva creepy comic book.  It's hobo horror as a man, Cole Jensen, walks up to a farm, seeking a bit of work. Or that's at least what he says he's there for.  Or maybe it’s the rats that are really the creepy part, the dancing rats that are introduced early in the story more as a child’s exaggerated sense of the world.  Cullen Bunn’s writing lures us into the comic but it’s A.C and Carlos Nicolas Zamudio’s artwork and colors that really make us squirm as hobos and rats become these darkly sinister manifestations of some hidden evil that moves in the shadows of the farmhouse.

Zamudio’s drawings set the scene by painting a picturesque farmhouse.  Taking place over forty years ago, her drawings are timeless, giving the setting an innocent feel.  Two sisters play, argue and do chores around the farm as their aging father has to accept that he can’t run the farm as he once used to.  Things change; things grow old and it’s eventually up to the young to support and work for the old.  Zamudio shows us one of those summer days when these kinds of changes are just beginning.  The oldest girl, Birdie, is eager to help her father.  Zamudio draws these moments a rustic innocence. Even when Jensen shows up, he’s a grotesque man but you can never be too sure whether he’s really that way or if it’s just Birdie’s perception and imagination at work coloring our own first impressions of the man.

Bunn already plants that doubt in our head with the very first lines of the comic, “The dead rats danced the day the hired man came around.  My father might have scolded me for saying such a foolish thing.  He didn’t care much for dreams and fancies-- nightmares either.”  Bunn’s writing captures an American simpleness.  Birdie, her sister and her parents aren’t complex people even if Birdie at first seems to have an active imagination.  Bunn and Zamudio are telling one of those all-American farm stories that is about a by-gone era.  A stranger comes to town, she’s frightened by him and suddenly we can’t help but see him through her eyes.  He is a frightening figure but her dad welcomes him in, giving him a job and a place to sleep out by the barn.




And then we see Birdie’s dancing rats.  Bunn and Zamudio take us into the barn and the whole world changes.  Even just the simple job they’re given of going into the barn to hunt and kill rats is enough to make your skin crawl.  That in itself is frightening but the barn proves to be a much more sinister and evil place than anyone knew.  Is it a coincidence that Birdie and her sister discover the truth just as he new hired hand sits outside of the barn, perched like he’s waiting for something?  The Remains #1 is about the darkness that only children can see and Bunn and Zamudio drag us into a world where things that are dead don’t stay dead and strangers are a portent to something much, much more horrific than the world we live in.

You won’t want to go into a barn after reading The Remains #1.  Just the simple chore of watching the two sisters and their dog hunt and kill the rats that infest the barn is enough to keep you up at night but then Bunn and the Zamudio’s have to twist events even more, creating this gnawing feeling at your soul all as Cole Jensen sits outside, having a smoke and waiting for you to emerge from the darkness.  Everything changes when he walked up to the house but it feels like whatever is in the barn has always been there.