Proctor Valley Road #1
Writers: Grant Morrison & Alex Child
Artist: Naomi Franquiz
Color Artist: Tamra Bonvillain
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Cover Artist: Naomi Franquiz
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Proctor Valley Road #1 starts and ends with death and destruction. It’s a promise that’s carried throughout the series’ first issue, with plenty of build-up and a fair amount of teasing in terms of how and when its monsters will come out to play. Upon first impressions, the comic seems to be invested in deep character development and a kind of horror worldbuilding that’s dead set on going down a dark and bloody road to get at the heart of its story. And yet, something more seems to be hiding between its pages.
Writers Grant Morrison (Nameless, The Filth) and Alex Child (BBC’s Holby City), illustrator Naomi Franquiz (Tales from Harrow County), and superstar colorist Tamra Bonvillain (Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay) combine for a creative team that’s well aware of what’s already been done with the Stranger Things-inspired ‘young group of kids facing unspeakable nightmares’ formula so as to get at something different.
The first issue of the new BOOM Studios series follows four teenage girls—Cora, Rylee, August, and Jennie—as they organize a “spook tour” on one of America’s most haunted and monster-infested roads, the titular Proctor Valley Road.
This road actually exists and has been the focus of many ghost documentaries and urban legends claiming dark entities truly do wander the surrounding area, which is located in California. One such monster is said to resemble a kind of Minotaur, a massive beast with horns that roams the night looking for people to feed on (aptly named the Proctor Valley Monster).
The four teens are given distinct personalities and it’s immediately apparent they each carry problems and anxieties specific to their experiences. Morrison and Child’s script makes the most of the space they’re allowed in this first issue to make sure readers get a good sense of who these girls are and how they’ll react once they start crossing paths with the monsters.
The story latches on to the “Spook Tour” idea to create an entire mystery surrounding missing teenagers, all last seen on Proctor Valley Road. What makes the story stand out is that instead of settling on the now overused 1980’s retro vibe made fashionable by Stranger Things, comics like Paper Girls, and a generous amount of indie horror movies, it opts to dials back the clock for at least a decade to explore the 1970’s and its version of America.
Instead of malls and arcades, Proctor Valley Road sees its cast of characters going to fairs, all while living in a more idealized version of suburbia that still couldn’t shake the 1960’s variant of the American Dream that latched onto it.
Franquiz’s art and Bonvillain’s colors do a lot of the heavy lifting in this respect, sticking close to time-specific details that bring the Seventies back without turning it into a caricature of itself. Bonvillain’s colors keep things bright and visible, suggesting subsequent issues won’t shy away from giving readers a full view of its monstrosities. Franquiz’s overall design often tricks the reader into feeling safe behind its semi-YA aesthetic. But when things get violent, they get bloody violent.
Another curious decision the comic makes is in presenting its Seventies setting as a hostile environment for women and people of color. None of it is sanitized or made to come across as window dressing for added effect. It borrows a page or two from Stephen King here own, especially in how his stories zero in on small town America to portray them as unique sources of evil that amplify the power of the supernatural threats that terrorize his characters (something that’s clearly evident in King’s earlier work, with Salem’s Lot and It being great examples of it).
Proctor Valley Road #1 accomplishes a lot with its storytelling and lays the foundation for a series that has the potential to mix things up with ideas that already have quite a bit of mileage on them. Thankfully, this first chapter overpowers its own influences to present readers with a horror experience that has no interest in retreading old ideas just for the sake of it. Needless to say, the monsters that are lining up for this one seem eager to inspire new terrors on their own terms.
Published by BOOM! Studios, Proctor Valley Road #1 is available in stores and digitally now.