Coffin Hill (Vol. 1): Forest of the Night by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Misanda
Coffin Hill is a great new horror comic that is worth checking out in this first trade collection. It is part of the new wave of titles being put out by Vertigo, DC’s line of mature comics for adult readers. I tried reading Caitlin Kittredge’s Coffin Hill when it came out on a monthly basis, but it didn’t hold my interest, so, after two issues, I decided to wait until it was published as a trade. Many good modern comics read better as trades than they do as monthlies. Even Brubaker’s brilliant Lovecraftian-noir comic Fatale, except for a few issues in the middle of the series, doesn’t read as well on a monthly basis as does his earlier work such as Criminal. So, now that Coffin Hill is available as a trade, I can finally recommend it as a worthwhile comic book.
Coffin Hill is about a young rookie police officer named Eve Coffin who quits the force after miraculously recovering from being shot in the head. She returns to her family’s mansion of a home in Coffin Hill, Massachusetts and discovers that an old friend, Nate, is now Chief of Police Nate Finn in the small town. Against his wishes, she starts helping him as he searches for missing kids in the woods near her old home because these new cases are connected to what she did as a teenager in those same woods.
A good portion of the story consists of flashbacks to the rebellious young Eve who loved to shock her parents and cause trouble with her little gang of friends: Dani, Mel, and Nate, Mel’s boyfriend on whom Eve had (and still has) a crush. This story is a horror story because Eve comes from a long line of witches, and her decision to use some blood and cast some spells in the woods leads to disaster: Eve passes out, and when she wakes up, Mel is naked and covered in blood, and Dani has vanished, destroyed by whatever is out there that is still hurting teenagers in the present of the story. Eve convinces the grown-up Nate that she should help because she is responsible: “I woke what’s in the woods,” she tells him.
I am not a big fan of horror, and I will not watch any television shows or movies that are in that genre. However, I do like older horror by Poe and Lovecraft, and since I’ve been reading comics, I’ve been pleased to find that I like many horror comics: Hellblazer, Preacher, Sandman, and more. I tried one television episode of The Walking Dead and didn’t enjoy it (though I thought it was well done), but I do enjoy The Walking Dead comic book. Coffin Hill is in this category of excellent modern horror comics, and I want to recommend it both to fans of horror and to those who might not think of themselves as horror fans. I also like that Coffin Hill combines horror with my favorite genre fiction: Noir. Since Eve was a police officer and since she helps an old friend who is the Chief of Police, the comic is a police procedural, a subgenre of noir/crime fiction.
The comic also includes romance. When Eve and Nate meet again as adults, Eve still clearly has feelings for him, but he is not happy to see her even though he is obviously still attracted to her. It turns out that Mel has been placed in an insane asylum and hasn’t spoken a word since the night of the Dani’s disappearance. Nate obviously blames and still resents Eve for what she did, and he continues to visit Mel, his teenage girlfriend, on a regular basis. Eve, feeling guilty, finally visits Mel when she’s in town. The story gets even stranger when Mel leans over and whispers in Eve’s ear. The next day, after a decade, she comes out of her comatose state to return to Nate’s side. All is not as it first appears, however, and the story gets creepier and creepier with each issue.
Coffin Hill tells a complete story arc, so you will be satisfied when you finish reading this trade collection. However, I’m looking forward to reading more of this story. New issues are already coming out, and I might start reading them on a monthly basis now that I’m fully hooked. I can’t wait to find out what Eve Coffin does next.
The northeast United States gets quite a bit of attention in the horror genre (and fantasy). Stephen King has clearly made the state of Maine Weird Central, USA, but Irish writer John Connolly has added his bit of strange darkness to the Maine woods as well. Paul Park starts his Romania Quartet in Massachusetts, and now Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda add to the creepy-otherness quotient with the trade collection comic.
Vertigo is DC Comics’s line of works for adult readers. The themes in Coffin Hill are adult themes and there is plenty of sex, nudity and rough language. All of that is in service to the story, but this isn’t a child’s comic.
I read Coffin Hill: The Forest of the Night because Brad Hawley’s review made it sound intriguing, and I was not disappointed. At first I didn’t recognize Kittredge’s name, but then I read the back of the book – she’s the author of the BLACK LONDON series which stars a London cop and a wizard or magician. Now she’s turned her sights on the new world, but still brings the same creepy edge, and Miranda’s artwork, especially the crows, complements the story and the writing beautifully.
Eve Coffin is the scion (and only child) of the Coffin family. As Eve says, “The Coffins are the holy Trinity of New England royalty; old money, old blood, and old secrets.” Eve, who was a rookie cop in Boston, fled back to Coffin Hill after she was nearly killed in a shooting. It is a miracle she survived and one eye is permanently damaged.
Eve’s story alternates between the present and the past, 2003 to be precise, when the aftermath of teenage rebellion in the woods of Coffin Hill left one friend vanished, another catatonic and Eve, unconscious, covered in blood. Eve is not just a spoiled rich girl with something to prove; she is a Coffin witch, the latest in a long line of witches, and in 2003 she woke something out in those woods. Now that she’s returned, she finds out that one of her friends, Nate, is now the chief of police, and that two teenagers have just gone missing. Whatever is in the woods is hungry.
The story is complex but well-plotted, with lots of red herrings. At first, I thought there were too many mundane humans who were bad, but that is part of Kittredge’s plot. The catatonic friend, Mel, suddenly regains consciousness after Eve visits her. Mel and Nate were a couple but that never dampened the sexual tension between him and Eve. Nate and Eve had another bond, a secret, one that makes Nate want to trust her, but he feels uncomfortable with her presence in the town and her help on the investigation. Eve will not be brushed aside because she believes she is the only one who can end the disappearances and bring the truth to light. Basically, there is conflict galore here; not just the conflict of an outsider, or prodigal child returning, but elemental emotional conflict; rage, resentment, envy, jealousy; revenge and retribution.
Miranda’s artwork fits perfectly with this dark, twisty story, from the bright, punkish neons of the 2003-era rebellious teens to the strangeness of Eve’s damaged eye. Drawn and colored the way it is, Eve’s eye gives the impression that it can see into places a regular human eye cannot. This is hinted at, never actually stated, but I wondered about it throughout the book. I love when that happens.
Eve’s relationship with her mother is, to put it mildly, strained, but a short story at the end of the book sheds some light on their relationship.
This edition completes the story of The Forest of the Night, but still manages to end on a cliffhanger. There is a lot that happened in Boston before Eve’s shooting that we don’t know, but I think with Volume 2 we are going to learn.
If you like edge dark fantasy, police noir, and a little bit of goth with your mystery, (and if you like crows,) this book will draw you right in.