Pigeons From Hell
Writer: Joe R. Lansdale (adapted from Robert E. Howard)
Artists: Nathan Fox and Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
First off, really cool and intriguing cover. A mass of pigeons taking off in the dusk to form a skullish visage over a dilapidated mansion. Hmmm…let’s crack this one open and see what’s inside. Ahhh. It’s a classic haunted house story. Every Halloween has to have at least one of those.
A car full of young folks arrive at the Blassenville Mansion in the middle of a swamp which was once a thriving pre-Civil War plantation. Since we already know this is a haunted house tale we also know that other than nature, darker things have reclaimed it. My wife makes me watch ghost reality shows on the television so I am already somewhat more schooled than most and couple that with a lifetime of reading horror fiction.
Two African-American girls have inherited this mansion from their grandmother who we are told was a voodoo or hoodoo woman if y’all lean to the deep fried version. They have brought three friends with them to claim said inheritance. Two guys and a girl. They go exploring.
The story creeps along pretty good. I always have enjoyed a good Joe R. Lansdale tale when I get a chance to read one. The idea that he’s adapting fellow Texan Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan and bunches of other pulpy wonder) makes me want to read this. I can’t say by this point the artwork has impressed me since the cover. The kids look like they are cast off drawings for a Gorillaz album cover. All the white boys have vaguely simian jawlines. Lansdale is…well Lansdale and that does make for good narrative and peppy dialogue.
“Janet. What did grandma say about pigeons?”
“Was it four of them and a potato make a good lunch?”
“No. They’re harbingers of death.”
The house is murky and indistinct and I suppose this is an effect to signify mystery and creepiness but it comes off as not very accomplished illustration. A pile of dead pigeons are found in the attic by the gang. From where I sit it looks like a pile of scrawl. There is more scrawl and Bill with the glasses plunges through rotting floor and gets his leg broken. Hey! This is getting personal. In trying to get Bill to a doctor the car is run off the road by the sudden appearance of a deer. (A sinister deer?) You see how the house is exerting its malevolent will. The tale is opaced well. Lansdale proceeds with doing Howard proud. Now the gang is truly stuck there and not because of Hollywood movie horror stupidity. A good haunted house story is always a bitter mouse trap. Bill with a compound fracture and no medical help is very screwed. We can write his ass off. Yes and at night the spirits get restless and wander about.
I could give you a scene by scene, play-by-play but for those of you inclined to want to find out what goes on at the Blassenville Mansion that would just be a series of spoilers. If you want to explore that I encourage you to find a collection and read for yourselves. Joe R. Lansdale needs the money and I suppose Dark Horse Comics does too. I will tell you in the back of the book there is a fine little featurette ; The Adventures of Two Gun Bob, true stories from the life of Robert E. Howard. This contains some due acknowledgment of the long gone pulp master with biographical material how he first received this tale in “Bagwell, Texas circa 1914.” This little gem rendered unto us by Jim and Ruth Keegan.
There is also a bio piece by Joe R. Lamnsdale himself and that too makes for a pretty good reading. You get more background on Pigeons From Hell. Apparently, this story has been passed around more than Madonna in a sports team’s locker room. Now thanks to Dark Horse collaborating with Lansdale we have it in this form.
Lansdale’s story does the job well. All the haunted house components mix fairly well. There are ample twists and turns and downright evil spewage meant to grossify y’all up some. Alas, the artwork never develops beyond what I got in the first few pages. I will say there are some panels that totally work and those I dug heartily. There are also panels that at critical moments are meant to freak my ass out but are just rendered incomprehensible to my eyes. I lose the horror of the moment somewhere in a jumbled mass of confusion. For some of you it might even work. I’m going to have to rate this as having a good beat but still not easy to dance the Terror Tango to.
by Bill Hilburn