As always*, REVIVAL leads with a terrifying but lovely cover by Jenny Frison, and launches into and equally terrifying and lovely world, brought to life (and after-life) by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton. This month's opening panel features a flaming skull, a remnant of Em's violent encounter with the Check brothers, and a reminder that even a town filled with walking dead has its mortals.
Valentine's date night at karaoke, a little bit charming and a little bit weird, serves as both a window onto some characters with their guards down (see: Lester's dark metal song choice) and a launchpad for more musically-linked flashbacks (Aaron's first night out with Em, set to Doomtree). It's also an opportunity for Em to spend more unsettling alone-time with her Reviver babysitting-charge, Jordan. Creepy little children with extra-sensory abilities are a horror staple just as much as the undead are, and Jordan presents us with another window -- into the nature of undeath, and the call of the ghost in the woods.
As scary as the dead walking might be, the story-via-flashbacks that's unfolding, bit by bit, is shaping up to be even more chilling. REVIVAL is often called a "rural noir," and the repetitive locking-in on Em's smile (and her untimely demise, yet to be fully pieced together) is exactly on-tone. We've known since the start that Dana is the unsatisfied detective seeking answers, but these last few issues, her sister has been stepping nicely into the shoes of the captivating and tragic fatale.
Linking it all together -- the date night, the flashbacks, the ghosts, mortality -- is a moment of closure. As Mrs. Vang's ring brings Joe back to his lost soul, we see once again how a Reviver can return to peace. The whole issue converges here, and there's a literary kind of smartness about the moment; Joe pulling Aaron's memories of Em -- perhaps the furthest Reviver from closure, and the least stable -- just before his own resolution is perfect.
* With the exception of great cameos, like last month's Skottie Young cover.
The pacing on this title sometimes makes it hard to keep reading in single issues; the close attention to character development, while a huge asset, means that the principal story arc drags out over substantial length. The ghosts in the woods are certainly turning the tension up a notch, especially as we see Revivers start to disappear (die?), but the high-action moments sometimes fight for page space with a carousel of subplots.
REVIVAL is still my favorite horror title on shelves right now, with its simple, Midwestern charm and inventive approach to the undead. Every character is distinctive, and they all feel like someone you know (particularly if you've ever spent any time in a small town), so it's incredibly easy to become personally invested in their stories. It's a title that seems to read best in trade at the moment, with an abundance of character development and subplotting that tends to make single issues feel slow or lacking in action, but the story as a whole is immersive, interesting, and beautifully executed.