Review: Steeple #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

There are few things better in comics than a new book from Giant Days’ John Allison. After the emotional finale of that series he has turned his attention from students to a battle between heaven and hell set on the north Cornwall coast in Steeple from Dark Horse Comics.

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Writer: John Allison
Artist: John Allison, Sarah Stern
Price: £2.49 from comiXology

If that description sounds like this new book is going to be a strange hybrid of Poldark and Hellboy, don’t worry, it’s still packed with all the usual Allison hallmarks like quirky characters, fizzing dialogue and a delightfully daft sense of humour.

Billie Baker is a young curate (trainee priest) who is sent to the North Cornish village of Tredregyn, to help the local vicar. Little does she know that her charge, Reverend Penrose, is engaged a demonic battle to prevent the forces of hell from taking over the village. On her way to her new post, her car explodes, and she encounters the enigmatic Maggie Warren, who gives her a lift into town on her motorbike, However Maggie is not your usual village resident and her unique loyalties will pit her against Billie in this West Country battle between good and evil.

After the student based japes of Giant Days, and the retro sleuthing of By Night, Allison is back in the kind surreal supernatural territory that we loved in Mordawwa. Billie is a delightful awkward young cleric (reminding us of the wonderful Daisy from Giant Days), while Maggie is more like Mordawwa, with her vampish hair and black leather which makes for a fantastic contrast in this unlikely buddy book. However perhaps our favourite of them all is Billie’s boss, Reverend Penrose, who is like an ecclesiastical Ernest Hemmingway, fighting back the onslaught of monsters in his own stoic way.

As is so often the case in Allison’s work, this is a book built around a wonderful eye for detail in the characters and a fantastic ear for dialogue. Long time fans will not be disappointed as his familiar themes of unlikely friendships that are tested in unlikely situations, as well as strong but vulnerable female leads, all of which are what powers along this story – but there also happens to be monsters to fight as well!

It feels like a classic Allison book and is helped by the fact he also pulls double duty on this new series, doing the art as well as writing the story. It is great to see Allison’s delightfully angular artwork back on display in the pages of Steeple and it has a rea polish to it. He balances the gothic horror of the monsters, but gives them a kind of quirky Mignola-esque silliness at the same time (which is very fitting considering Allison’s new publisher) but he does this without ever making the story completely ridiculous. While the story is frequently hilarious, he manages to balance that humour with some seriously spooky pages and it has an almost Michael Oeming-esque quality to some of the compositions. Plus, thanks to Sarah Stern’s muted colour scheme it also has that damp horror feel of a 70s horror movie like the Wicker Man.

This first issue of Steeple does a fantastic job of setting up the world and character for Steeple, and while we can’t yet tell if this will reach the heady heights of Giant Days, there is plenty of depth and character in this opening issue to know that we will definitely be worshipping this for some time to come!