Proctor Valley Road #1 Review: 'Stranger Things' Receives a Heavy Dose of Reality
It's hard not to see the parallels between Stranger Things and the new BOOM! Studios comic series Proctor Valley Road. Idyllic small America town? Check. Young troupe of troublemakers and best friends? Check. Unexplained monsters killing people? Check again. Where the new series from writers Grant Morrison and Alex Child and artist Naomi Franquiz branches off from that setup is the grounded, heavy reality of the time in which this narrative is set. It's one thing to place your story a few decades in the past for the sake of milking nostalgia, it's another to confront the ugly truth of what was happening in era head on.
Inspired by a real locale of the same name, billed as America's most haunted road, Proctor Valley Road tells the story of four young women navigating the world as friends and in over their heads the entire time. The gentle introduction to this story and the place inhabited by lead characters August, Rylee, Jennie, and Cora sets the stage for what feels like a traditional coming of age tale, but we know from the jump that something sinister is a foot. Franquiz's artwork is one reason to assume tranquility even if the literal monsters weren't in the opening pages. That Morrison and Child clearly plant their roots in the tumultuous era of the early 70s brings new evil to the forefront however, positioning the comic's story to possess layers and depth.
Racism, sexism, and all matters of in-fighting permeate Proctor Valley Road but the biggest surprise is how these things aren't window dressing for an era but appear to be storylines traveling down their own lanes as well. There's an apparent weaving of supernatural and real horrors of life in this narrative that seem ready to intersect in shocking ways. My jaw hit the floor with how the creative team were able to make this happen in the closing pages of the first issue.
Artist Naomi Franquiz together with colorist Tamra Bonvillain create a look for the comic suggesting a truly unique tone. Though eerily reminiscent of lighter stories like those found at Archie, it has a color palette that pops throughout—that it still works when the uglier sides of humanity take over the story is a testament to their grasp of the material. Similarly when the need to shift into the lane of the supernatural is needed for the story, Franquiz and Bonvillain have a handle on how to make it work, selling the mood and tone of these sequences building to a pure jump-scare in comic form.
With Proctor Valley Road #1 Grant Morrison has found a new realm to dive head first into and, working alongside co-writer Alex Child, it seems they're close to striking gold. We can't fully appreciate the scares and the monsters of any given horror comic until we care about who is in danger and the co-writers ensure their leads are fully established and ready to run as the first issue begins. The real strength of this solid debut issue is Naomi Franquiz's artwork, which has a malleable construction that is always suited to whatever the tone of any given sequence should be, but never wavers in quality.
If the strength of Proctor Valley Road #1 is anything to go by, this will be a series to keep your eye on, not only because of its many surprises but because it's able to take the familiar and make it feel new and fresh.
Published by Boom Studios
On March 10, 2021
Written by Grant Morrison and Alex Child
Art by Naomi Franquiz
Colors by Tamra Bonvillain
Letters by Jim Campbell
Cover by Naomi Franquiz