Basketful of Heads (2020)
Written by Joe Hill
Art by Leomacs
It helps to have a famous dad, I suppose. In 2019, DC Comics announced a horror comics imprint, Hill Comics, that would be overseen by horror novelist Joe Hill, son of Stephen King. I have never read any of Hill’s prose, but I did read his previous comics series, Locke & Key, which is quite a fun & disturbing horror mystery with all sorts of twists and turns along the way. Hill Comics’s opening salvo would include Hill’s own Basketful of Heads, The Dollhouse Family by Peter Carey, The Low Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, and more. I plan to read through these as the trades are released, and we have some great horror comics that bridge the gap between the pulpy comic anthologies of old and more modern horror sensibilities.
Basketful of Heads begins with a raincoat wearing figure wandering over a bridge carrying the titular basketful, full of severed heads talking to each other. We jump back a few days and meet June Branch, a college student visiting her boyfriend on Brody island. He’s spent the summer working as a sheriff’s deputy there and is wrapping up his last day before returning to university with June. This also happens to be when four inmates escape the local jail and appear to be out for revenge. June ends up trapped in the sheriff’s large home on the coast as her boyfriend and the rest of the police head out into the storm to search for the loose criminals. Trouble finds June, though, and her resourcefulness leads to a discovery that will change everything.
Basketful of Heads is most certainly an homage to the exploitative horror of the late 1970s/early 1980s. The story is wholly centered around female revenge tropes. This is relatively reliable territory for a well-versed horror writer, but the danger lies in how close you want to follow narrative formulas and where genre twists will happen. There isn’t a lot of subtlety in Hill’s writing; it’s undeniable the story is about how powerful, evil men often get away with whatever they want in this world. It takes literal supernatural interference to help June stop these cretins.
I do not think this story sticks its landing entirely and starts to become a little too repetitive. Every scene where June encounters a new male character inevitably turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy, and she has to take them out. That could be played satirically, but it wasn’t apparent to me if Hill is doing that. Interestingly, this was originally a six-issue mini-series, but an additional issue was tacked during production. I can’t say that was a benefit as that seventh chapter is the weakest and doesn’t necessarily deliver on the story’s opening promise.
One of the strongest elements of the mini-series is the art done by Italian penciller Leomacs. The style is both reminiscent of European comics from the 1960s-1980s but doesn’t feel retro. There’s a strong sense of light & shadow at play that help create strong moods. At the same time, characters are fluid and deeply expressive. Everyone looks distinct, and it’s clear Leomacs doesn’t rely on a single male face or female face. The artist even models our villains after character actors from the 1970s/80s like Ned Beatty and John Cazale. Those touches help with the reader’s immersion in this as a “forgotten” horror movie of the era and make reading it a little more fun.
If you want a horror story that is very familiar & traditional, then I think Basketful of Heads has a lot to offer you. There isn’t a lot of time spent trying to explain why these heads can talk, the story just tells us its magic, and we move on. Instead, the pages are devoted to a lot of atmosphere building and plot twists. I can’t imagine anyone up for the journey is going to dislike Basketful of Heads. If you are out for something more esoteric and surreal, then you’ll likely be disappointed, but here’s hoping Hill Comics covers a wide range of horror sub-genres.