Jason Turner, 171 pgs, Cloudscape Comics, cloudscapecomics.com, $25
The murder rate of idyllic small towns nestled in the woods must be off the charts.
Jason Turner’s Fir Valley joins the ranks of this burgeoning small-town, supernatural murder mystery genre, only with a Canadian twist — it’s Twin Peaks, adapted for North Vancouver. The book introduces two teens, Carrie and Jen, setting out to solve the murder of the latter’s father, while rescuing her kidnapped brother. Their investigation takes them across town, uncovering a hidden conspiracy and long-buried family secrets.
In an already crowded genre, Turner’s artwork sets Fir Valley apart. Its best illustrations are trippy, hallucinatory visions of ecological collapse. Animals flee from the forest en masse. A personified mountain causes a major landslide, wrecking half the titular town. An animal mask-wearing cult plots a sacrifice in the dead of night.
These are captivating moments that set Fir Valley apart from its inspiration. The pared-down panel layout and colouring are ominous glimpses into the darkness lurking beneath the town.
It’s a shame they’re weighed down with clunky writing. Characters trade off angsty one-liners like disappointed Hot Topic customers asking to see a manager, because the “past is an anchor around my neck dragging me down into the murky depths of the future,” as one character puts it.
Meanwhile, the book introduces characters faster than it can develop them, leaving the motley crew of would-be North Vancouver residents feeling half-cocked. All the local colour of aging rockers, hippies, and plucky punk heroines doesn’t necessarily make for well-crafted characters. Turner gets enough right to earn the book’s place in the genre. But the boundaries of well-established genres should be pushed, not reinforced.