Gideon Falls Vol. 1: The Black Barn
GIDEON FALLS Vol. 1: The Black Barn by Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart
This first volume of Image's GIDEON FALLS series feels like a full story on its own. With intriguing characters and a gripping plot, as well as groundbreaking visuals, this is one comic that will stay with you for a long time.
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Just in time for Halloween, Image’s GIDEON FALLS Vol. 1: The Black Barn is hitting the shelves. If you’re a fan of TWIN PEAKS or love a good old eldritch location, you should absolutely check this series out. With chilling writing by Jeff Lemire and absolutely mindbending visuals by Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart, GIDEON FALLS isn’t a story you’ll forget any time soon. Volume 1 collects issues #1-6 as well as a cover art gallery, featuring variant covers by artists such as Cliff Chiang (PAPER GIRLS) and Skottie Young (I HATE FAIRYLAND).

Welcome to GIDEON FALLS!

Black Barn
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Strange things are happening in the small town of Gideon Falls. The local priest has died under mysterious circumstances. Slabs of wood filled with a dark aura keep manifesting around town. And of course, there are numerous sightings of a black barn that can appear and disappear at any location.

Writer Jeff Lemire introduces us to Gideon Falls from the perspective of two protagonists. One — Father Wilfred — is the new Catholic priest who has come to Gideon Falls to replace the vacant position. On his first night there, the barn appears before him as a member of the church is murdered. Unfortunately, Wilfred is a former alcoholic with a criminal history and the town does not trust him easily. The other is a young man named Norton, who has a history of schizophrenia and hospitalizations. Norton sees the black barn in his dreams and has been compulsively searching through the trash around town to find clues about this entity. However, his therapist Dr. Xu is concerned that he is relapsing into a psychotic episode.

Two protagonists, each considered “untrustworthy” by society, each uncovering more and more about this otherwordly building. And we as an audience are here on this journey with our “unreliable” heroes.


Black Barn
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Overall, the plot is gripping and deeply fulfilling. I know there are more issues yet to come, but Volume 1 feels like a full story in its own right. It has multiple arcs which pull us into the depths of the barn itself and back out again.

Of course, GIDEON FALLS does rely on the unfortunate archetype of “the mentally ill person who isn’t actually mentally ill — they’re just having plot-relevant visions.” However, GIDEON FALLS handles it in an interesting way. Certainly, Norton is still living with mental illness, even though he is right about the barn. He had a traumatic experience as a kid that has left him with numerous suicide attempts. Norton also constantly wears a surgical mask, presumably to keep away disease when he’s outside. There’s no neurotypical explanation for that, leading us to feel Norton’s paranoia. So, even if Norton’s story falls into some overplayed tropes, it does try to keep things a bit more complex than just “the hospital is wrong, there is no such thing as mental illness.”

Mental Health in GIDEON FALLS

I did have complicated feelings about Norton’s therapist, Dr. Xu. The first time we see her, she is extremely dismissive and aggressive towards Norton about his obsession with trash. Dr. Xu threatens him with hospitalization if he continues searching through the garbage, which certainly isn’t going to make her patient more likely to open up to her. She also keeps telling him that this is all in his head, which is not helpful to people going through delusions. Just because they know intellectually that it’s a delusion does not make it feel less real.

However, Dr. Xu does get better as the story progresses. Gradually, she begins to believe in the black barn and reaches out to Norton as a friend. Their teamwork in uncovering the truth about the barn, especially as she helps him process some of his trauma, is fascinating to watch.

Norton isn’t the only character living with mental illness in GIDEON FALLS. Father Wilfred struggles to recover after his alcoholism. It’s a dark stain on his record that people are always looking to use against him. When he is arrested for a crime he did not commit, the bishop does nothing to help him. Instead, the bishop takes the position of “If you didn’t do it, you have nothing to worry about” — a silent judgement of Wilfred’s character. His alcoholic past is used against his testimony. Just as with Norton, Wilfred’s account of things is no longer credible. For all intensive purposes, he is an “unreliable narrator.”

The Black Barn – Outside of Human Understanding

Black Barn
Image courtesy of Image Comics

One of the aspects of GIDEON FALLS that I’ve found most interesting is the ways characters struggle to accept the barn, since it defies both scientific and religious explanation. And we see this from both sides.

Father Wilfred has trouble accepting something that’s right in front of him because it doesn’t fit in with his views. The church is supposed to be a safe haven. And yet the barn holds power over multiple characters who were heavily involved with the church. This deeply disturbs Wilfred, to the point where he can’t write his sermon. However, when he finally finds someone who has studied the barn, Wilfred dismisses those theories as “science fiction.” Even when Wilfred does start to believe in the barn, he fears that he is rejecting his own faith. They’re just too contradictory in his opinion.

While Wilfred uses Christianity to dismiss the barn, Dr. Xu uses psychology. At first, she attributes everything about the black barn to Norton’s mental illness. Even after she sees the barn herself, she chalks it up to shared psychosis. In either case, the black barn defies all normal human explanations, therefore the characters cannot allow it to be real. It would destroy everything they know about the world if it really did exist. All in all, it’s a compelling, if grim, take on the ways humans ignore the things they can’t explain.

Red Rum

Black Barn
Image courtesy of Image Comics

Of course, Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart’s artwork is excellent. The black barn has certain symbols that we can see throughout the pages. We come to associate things like wood, rusty screws, doors, and the color red with this mysterious presence. In fact, the way the artists set up red as an aspect of the barn is excellent. Most of the panels are muted grays and other dark colors. But any time the barn is about to show up, we suddenly see tons of bright red. It pops against the subdued color scheme of everyday life, letting you know that whatever is about to go down is not normal.

What’s especially interesting is that the barn and its effects can appear at any time. Some of the most unsettling scenes happen during broad daylight. No matter what the weather is like, no matter whether someone is indoors or outdoors, you see that red and you know the barn is right there.

Plus, the inside of the barn is a wild ride in terms of visuals. Page layout becomes much more playful. We see a scene rewind and then fast forward, for instance. Time and space don’t seem to work the same way there, and we know that entirely from the panels alone. Some of these scenes can only work in the format of a comic. And that’s something I highly respect — when a work uses its own medium to its fullest potential.


Black Barn
Image courtesy of Image Comics

GIDEON FALLS Vol. 1: The Black Barn is a wild ride from start to finish. Even though it has many similarities with TWIN PEAKS, it feels like its own work. This is a story that makes us think about all about faith: which stories and which people we put our faith in. And which ones we don’t. Certainly, the black barn is an entity that will stay with you ages after you’ve put the book down. It is absolutely worth a read.

GIDEON FALLS Vol. 1: The Black Barn came out on October 17th, 2018. Find it here.

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