This series has been on the cusp of being really good for a while now. Holding it back has been the supernatural mystery of the revivers and some storytelling that doesn’t surprise as often as it should given the subject matter. With vol. 5, writer Tim Seely makes some big strides towards addressing these issues. By the end of it, I was more involved in the fate of the inhabitants of Wausau, Wisconsin, than I have been at any other point in the series.
Seely wastes no time getting down to business as the first few pages involve a group of people smuggled into the town being attacked by a reviver deer. Turns out that with the discovery of deuterium oxide in the town’s water there’s a rumor going around that it has magical healing properties. Taking advantage of this is the town’s resident bigoted conspiracy theorist Edmund Holt who has been smuggling these people in for cash to fund his agenda. That’s not the only thing Wasau law enforcement is going to have to worry about in this volume, as they finally find out about the federal lab set up for housing “problem” revivers. This comes after Jeannie Gorski and her reviver support group pay them a visit for a peaceful protest that also involves self-crucifying. Meanwhile, reviver Emily Cypress finds out that she’s pregnant and teams up with her reporter friend May to find out what happened to the baby’s father (after the readers found out back in vol. 3). In order for this to work, they’re going to have to team up with extreme demonologist Blaine, who, if you’ll recall, tried to kill them both back in vol. 1.
It’s another busy volume and one that also manages to be entertaining on its own terms without giving you the feeling that you should have gone back and re-read the previous four volumes before starting this one. I’m sure doing so would provide additional insights to the events here, but I don’t feel like I’m being punished for not doing that which is the important thing. Better still is that there’s a real feeling that the story is moving forward through all of the plot threads being developed here. While those glowing supernatural beings are absent from this volume, we do get some actual information as to how they and the whole “revival” business may have been started in Wausau. The volume also ends on an explosive note which showcases the best and worst aspects of the revivers, giving the series a potentially involving development to pursue.
The many plot threads in this volume also take some entertaining turns and provide satisfying payoffs to events set up previously. After the existence of the lab holding the more unruly revivers is made known, it sets up a confrontation between the local authorities and the feds who are running it. Even if the feds are presented as the bad guys here, they’re more condescending than actually evil. Particularly when you consider that some of these revivals should be locked up for their own good and others’. The lab also factors into Edmund’s plans to… well, I’m not sure exactly what he was planning on doing here. Yes, he makes a lot of talk about life in Wausau was better back in the old days, but it’s not clear how his terrorist militia plans were meant to rectify that. His final words indicate it was more of an attention-getting scheme, which is disappointing. Thankfully it’s the only thing in this volume which really doesn’t click.
Handled in a far better fashion is the union of necessity forged between Emily, May, and Blaine. Yes, Blaine tried to kill the two women back in vol. 1, but he’s over that now and working towards some personal redemption. Finding Emily’s boyfriend, professor Aaron Weimar, is simply part of that and he’s got the skills necessary to do that. Blaine is the most interesting character in the series due to his practical approach and penchant for a colorful turn of phrase, winding up as an antagonist as a result because of his beliefs rather than the dictates of the narrative. That continues to be true here as he gleefully taunts Emily and May as he helps them out, with things taking a darker turn once Aaron is actually found. Blaine’s faith has been a key part of his personality, and rather than a weapon we see that he uses it as a defense mechanism in dealing with things that he doesn’t understand. He winds up in the antagonist role again at the end of the volume, except that after what happens to him here it’s hard to really fault him for it.
There’s also another supporting member of the cast who gets more development here than she has in the previous four volumes. Jeannie Gorski has been portrayed in a rather stereotypical “Midwestern Nice” kind of way from the start, in such a way as to imply that she was up to no good with her reviver support group. That turns out to not be the case here as the antics of the woman and her group help expose the federal revival lab and later go on to provide a lifesaving and then calming presence at the story’s climax. Yes, some of her antics are out there, but they also lead to the best line in the volume -- “What are we going to charge them with? Self-crucifying in a no-parking zone!” Then, at the end, we see that for all their quirks, Jeannie and her group really do seem to have everyone’s best interests at heart as they try to do the right thing. There’s every indication that she’s going to have a more prominent role in the narrative going forward from here and I welcome that now.
As for artist Mike Norton, my initial objections about his style keep fading further into the background with each volume. He continues to provide some stellar character work, giving us a cast who can convincingly sell the emotions of Seely’s script on the page, while getting better with atmosphere as well. The image of Emily arising from the pond of combusting reviver fish (yeah, that’s a thing) is quite impressive in the way it presents her as a herald of the evils Blaine fears. There is one real sticking point with the art in this volume, as there are four pages in the final issue which don’t look like they were done by him, or he just had to bash them out five minutes before the issue went to press. No other artist is credited for this issue, so I’m left wondering just went wrong here.
Still, everything for this series is finally falling into place and I’m actually really eager to see where the story goes from here. Even if those strange glowing creatures make an appearance in the next volume, it’s starting to feel like their role is ready to be explained after what we know of Aaron’s trip in this volume. The problem now is that with the anticipation, the wait between volumes is going to seem much longer for me now. On that note: Keep up the good work Tim and Mike, it’s finally paying off!