The following review contains spoilers for Rowans Ruin #1-4.
Have you ever seen the movie The Holiday? You know, the one where Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslet decide to swap houses for a while in the hopes of gaining a new lease on life? Well, the recently concluded miniseries Rowans Ruin is a bit like that. Just throw in a healthy dose of social media. Oh, and also a heaping ton of ghosts and murder.
It’s an interesting premise. Katie Shackley is an American living in a studio apartment in Florida. When Emily Coles of Stratford agrees to swap places and let her stay in her mansion, Rowans Rise, Katie seizes the opportunity without asking too many questions. Emily seems nice enough, if a little reserved, and it’s hard to imagine what could be so wrong with her house that she would give it up so easily. This may sound like a cliché beginning to a horror story, but Rowans Ruin makes it work. This series is nothing if not a modern classic, embracing common tropes while making them its own.
One such trope that seems to be gaining popularity in today’s age is the use of social media and homemade footage in horror movies such as Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project (which was actually made in 1999…crikey, we’re getting old). Also don’t forget about films such as Unfriended, which may be lesser known but still fits the bill quite nicely. Katie is a blogger, and her blogs punctuate certain moments of the story in classic fashion. She even gives us a tour of the house using SnapChat or FaceTime or Skype or Periscope or whatever the hell the kids are using these days.
As the story wears on, we learn a little bit about Katie’s past. Some of the details remain shrouded in mystery, which is unfortunate because you really can’t have too much of Katie. She’s one of the most likable horror protagonists I’ve ever come across, sincere in her interactions with others with a sense of humor that never fails. She’s the kind of protagonist you wish you could meet in real life. Someone you’d have a beer with. In a world of comics that seem as if their heroines are largely geared to sell erections, it’s kind of nice to see someone who’s just plain nice. Rant aside, the point is that I wouldn’t have minded seeing a bit more of her backstory.
The backstory we do get is that Katie has had some strange experiences, which subsided quite some time ago after lots of therapy. Having moved into Rowans Rise, they start coming back. She starts seeing specters, and they all appear to be linked to both the mansion and Emily herself. Katie has to do some detective work to uncover this supernatural mystery. Along the way, she receives both help and occasional skepticism from PC Hallam, her new beau.
In just four issues, Rowans Ruin manages to deliver horror, romance, comedy and mystery in one neatly wrapped little package. It seems as if it would be difficult, but this series makes it feel as if this balance of elements were the simplest thing in the world. Part of this is the art style, which helps to pull everything together. Katie has no shortage of expressions, and they aren’t always what you’d expect. There’s one moment where she’s talking to a bunch of ghosts and she just appears…awkward. Because really, how much experience does anyone have in speaking with ghosts? She’s brave enough not to run, yet still cautious enough not to start simply speaking as if the whole thing is natural. The dialogue and the artistry capture her feelings on the issue rather perfectly.
We’re also given little details about Katie and her family from time to time that don’t really add anything to the proceedings, yet make everything feel just a little more real. Rowans Ruin is as visceral as it is intellectual, a story in which we’re able to really care about these characters and get a sense of who they are. That’s integral to decent storytelling, which this comic has in spades. The mystery is arguably predictable, but the journey toward the ending is still well worth the time you’ll spend soaking up every single word and illustration.
I won’t say much about how the series ends, other than to say that it’s pretty satisfying. If someone wanted to do another adventure set in the world of Rowans Ruin, they absolutely could. But if not, readers won’t walk away feeling as if they were gypped out of the ending they deserve. The ending is somewhat bittersweet, yet somehow feels 100% jovial. It’s hard to explain without giving too much away, but you’ll understand what I mean by the time you reach the last panel.
Rowans Ruin #4 only just released this week, and this is the perfect time to catch up on the rest of the series if you’ve been missing out on it. With excellently balanced writing by Mike Carey, delightful illustrations by Mike Perkins, and very competent colors by Andy Troy, Rowans Ruin by Boom! Studios is a can’t-miss series that will increase your love for both modern and classic horror tropes. Take a trip to a haunted house, and bring along your smart phone. This is where old-school horror meets the new age, and you’ll want to catch it while it’s still fresh on the shelves.
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