Review: “A Murder of Scarecrows” (Caliber Comics, Festival of Dread Special)
Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering‘s month-long celebration of all things ghastly and ghoulish! Today we’re getting into the spirit of the season with A Murder of Scarecrows, an 80-page graphic novel first published by Caliber Comics in 2011.
In the years before the American Revolution, the seeds of rebellion were being planted. Local colonists are becoming resentful of decisions being made by the crown from across the Atlantic, and a surge of British soldiers are sent to quell a growing revolutionary fervor. It was an inescapable, escalatory spiral, and frankly, the Americans were getting tired of King George’s shit.
In the colonial village of Seaton, a masked hero known as the Scarecrow has appeared alongside a group called the Freedom Riders. Celebrated by the local colonists and abhorred by the Redcoats, this mysterious Scarecrow acts to protect the villagers and disrupt the British military’s plans.
This is the backdrop of A Murder of Scarecrows, the graphic novel written by Gary Reed and featuring illustrations by Wayne Reid. The story admittedly draws inspiration from Robin Hood and Zorro, perhaps a bit too much, as A Murder of Scarecrows could easily be rebranded by swapping the setting and the main character without skipping a beat.
“It is the cause of mankind!”
When the book begins, the Scarecrow has already been active for quite some time, and a new British Commandant Colonel Dreymore has been sent to Seaton with the express mission of routing out the masked vigilante. Commandant Dreymore is particularly wily and brutal in his methods, which is undoubtedly why he was given the job. The drama largely revolves around the Scarecrow (secret identity: Damien Legard) avoiding capture by the new Commandant (yes, just like the second half of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves).
Given the timeline presented in A Murder of Scarecrows, there’s a lot of backstory missing. So much so, that I researched the character to make sure that I wasn’t skipping earlier stories. I didn’t feel lost, necessarily, but there seems to be a lot of character development absent in the book as it’s written. A deeper exploration of the town or the reasons why Damien Legard became the Scarecrow would have been welcome, and it probably would have differentiated A Murder of Scarecrows from the Zorro and Robin Hood tales, too.
Join or Die!
On the art front, all of the pages are presented in black and white. Reid’s artwork is completely competent, but not memorable. It’s not simply a chain of talking heads or anything, though – far from it. The Scarecrow’s character design is cool and in the same vein as the “hangman” interpretations of the Batman villain with the same name (that’d be the Scarecrow, ya’ dinks). The tone of the art matches the story well and is in keeping with a slightly old-fashioned tradition of storytelling. This may seem like an odd complement, but Reid is very adept at drawing the faces of each character very consistently, so keeping track of the characters was remarkably easy for a black and white book. All of this adds up to a book that isn’t always very dynamic, but rather has a very grounded feel.
I feel like I may be writing an overwhelming negative review here, and unfortunately, I’m not done. As far as the physical book itself is concerned, A Murder of Scarecrows is not a perfectly packaged tale, either. The printing looks to be a little bit pixelated, resulting in some fuzzier images. It’s not horrendous, and I had my wife confirm that I wasn’t crazy by seeing it, but it was slightly distracting. On the most nit-pickiest side of all, the book is square-bound, and there was no text on the spine. What’s the point of giving a book a square binding if you can’t properly place it on a shelf?
Give me liberty or give me death!
In the end, I did find some enjoyment in A Murder of Crows. The story is a bit derivative and would have benefited from a more richly developed backstory, but the setting is unique and the artwork is a near-perfect match for the book’s tone. It’s also a very good value being priced at $9.99. American history buffs probably will enjoy it, as will those who prefer more grounded stories, but the underlying issues in A Murder of Scarecrows prevent it from being anything remarkable… or revolutionary. (Mad about that pun? You have no idea how many Wizard of Oz jokes I had to talk myself out of for this review!)
You can purchase a copy of A Murder of Scarecrows directly from the Caliber Comics website here.
Thanks for reading! To check out more of The Splintering‘s “Festival of Dread” content, go here!