As I look at some of my earliest reviews from August and September from 2019, I laugh a little bit. I was struggling to identify why I enjoyed the things I've read. Sometimes my thoughts were a disheveled mess, and my ability to talk about art was laughable (and it arguably still is...). However, I feel as if I've started to find my own voice. A lot of that is because of the kind support and/or guidance I've been given from people on Twitter. On September 26th, I wrote my third review ever of Juan Doe's Bad Reception #2 (Aftershock). Later that evening I was scrolling through Twitter, and all of a sudden, a note popped up in my DMs. I anxiously tapped to open it, and I was excited to see this.
Does this interaction bias me whenever I review works from Juan Doe? Possibly...but I don't really think so, because I honestly enjoy his art and color palette. There's just something unique to his work, and watching him write on Bad Reception vs. doing art on other tiles like Dark Ark he's just one of those creators who I just get. In the same way other folks buy anything with a Hickman, Bendis, Cates, Aaron, Zdarsky, Lemire, etc. on it, I'm always going to pick up anything with Juan Doe on it.
With that being said, its a little ironic (don't cha think?) that last night Juan Doe messaged me asking if I wanted to check out his newest work, Bad Birch.
Black Birch Vol. 1: The Hooke Family (Deboka)
In terms of judging a book by its cover, this was a true Forrest Gump box of chocolates type of glance. I didn't really know what I was going to get!
First, check out the stunning color work I mentioned above. What's the significance of a purple sky? Does it mean a storm is coming? Is there literal death on the horizon? Is Eli coming? Do I need to hide my heart? (I may have listened to this song the entire time I was writing this review)
Is that massive tree illuminated in white the Black Birch of the title? What is the significance of it? I just think there is a great deal of beauty to this cover (and it reveals far less than most of Doe's other cover works). I also like that for as much leg work as I attempt to do to discern meaning, I could be 100% off base. However, it is a pleasant thought exercise before I begin my journey
In the post-hoc conversation between Hazel (the woman waiting inside the diner) and Christopher (the large man overseeing the child-transfer) we learn that this was some sort of adoption and cash was exchanged. My brain jumps all over the place again. Is this kidnapping? Child Trafficking? An extra-legal adoption? I could not wait to get to the bottom of this all. When Hazel returns to her small village, giving items she purchased in a larger town to several of its citizens. There are several items of concern. Not only are there several pregnant women in the village (that's not too odd, I mean my wife and I had 3 kids in the course of 4 years), but Hazel enters what seems to be a large makeshift hospital or solely a maternity wing. No answers yet. However, we get answers to several of our prior questions.
The woman found hanging in the first page's tree was the mother of the Hooke family, she committed suicide because she was "wrestling too many demons," and it was the birch behind the Hooke family home (I think). Moments later, representatives from the families of the village arrive in the Hooke home for mourning and some sort of meeting. We eventually learn that this group of families is some sort of autonomous collective (because there is a power structure within each family and of all families). We also learn that there are rules surrounding all of the births taken place. But it's not clear what the rules are at the start. What I can ascertain is you start a family whenever you have your first biological child, you get to keep it, and then your duty is to have more children to sell for adoption?
All of this wild action is just Book 1. In subsequent books, we get to learn how their adoption process works, how they apparently get to work outside of the system, Hazel's desire to leave the families/collective behind, and the brewing of a massive power struggle between the families of the collective. I literally raced through this trade in about 45 minutes because I was so excited to see what happened. Read it a second time to pick up missed pieces from my adrenaline rush through the first read. Read it a third time this morning as I was piecing my feelings together for the review. Each time, I find something new, which keeps my imagination working rapidly to develop all sorts of theories as to what might happen in Volume 2!
Here are a few more morsels to hopefully hook you.
According to Doe, "this was intended to be a four issue paper-published series, but due to the current crisis [damn you 'rona] the writer [Cintron] decided to publish and release the full trade." My only question is WHEN DOES THE NEXT VOLUME COME OUT? I swear, I'm not blowing smoke for one of my favorite creators, this book is truly something unique, something exciting, and something beautiful that you should pick up!
After I publish this, I'm going to see if I can interview Doe and Cintron after the fact to get some juicy details! But for now you should....
The journey of a 30-something father of three who's trying to break into the world of reviewing comics after a loooooong hiatus...
Rimmey is a high school history/government teacher & speech and debate coach in Kansas. He has slowly been rediscovering his love for comics since June of 2019.
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