This week for Women in Horror Wednesday: a look Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda (based on the graphic novel Coffin Hill Vol. 1: Forest of the Night)
Coffin Hill begins by firmly telling us that Eve Coffin is playing in a boys clubhouse. She is a police officer who, as a rookie, has made the papers by catching a notorious killer. The first panels show her male partner in a bar, defending her to another male cop who gripes about her lucking out into a major bust after only a month on the job. When Eve shows up, she is less than jubilant about the arrest, leading us to believe that there is a little more to the story.
And that’s when Eve Coffin’s life turns to crap. Heading home from the bar, she is shot in the face by her roommate’s drug dealer boyfriend. She survives, and heads back (less than enthusiastically) to her childhood hometown. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that she was a rebellious, spoiled teen, doing whatever she could to irritate her mother. Her rebelliousness took a dark turn when she headed into the woods one night with some friends. And a very old spell book.
Yep, it turns out that the Coffin family lineage dates back to Salem, and they have a dark, scary, power-hungry history. As a spoiled teen, she unfortunately comes into this knowledge the hard way.
What makes Coffin Hill so intriguing is that it goes full out horror-fantasy, but is surprisingly rooted in reality. When bodies start piling up and people go missing, the police are involved rather than a renegade Ahab seeking revenge. The supernatural horror in it is intertwined with human horror. Humans and witches alike are capable of committing murder, after all.
But the best part? Eve Coffin is a badass. Plain and simple. But not in an over the top comic way, in a “I want to meet Eve Coffin and take lessons on being a real life badass from her” way. She holds her own professionally in a male-dominated field. She has learned from past mistakes. She can have casual sex and not let it colour her decision-making. She speaks her mind. She has issues, but rather than representing her as broken, the writers have smartly written her as a character who has been made stronger by her past and her flaws, not weaker.
I also really appreciate how the authors have portrayed the relationship between her and Nate, the closest to a love interest we’ve got. One thing about comics about badass ladies is that often their badassery is really rubbed in our faces by making the guys one of three things: a) so obnoxious that they force the heroine to be contrary, b) cheaters, absusers or jerks in general or c) really overly nice guys who step in to play the protector and are killed for their trouble. The trouble with this is that all of these types provide a reason or a catalyst for a female character to become a badass, rather than have her be one on her own.
Nate is different from these types. He is also a police officer, and recognizes that she can be useful. The tension between them is based on what happened in the woods all those years ago, and rather than judge her for what happened then, his frustration lies in that he doesn’t believe that she has changed. Nate is the one who stayed behind, and dealt with the aftermath of the mess she left in her wake. Personally, he is angry and upset, but he also sees her as a competent cop, and when she bristles at his suggestion that she “get some rest,” it quickly turns that typical head pat of a line into a realization that he thinks she is an asset, but not if she’s not on her game. Basically, he treats her like a human being, both by showing concern when it’s warranted and calling her on her BS when it’s needed.
The art in Coffin Hill is not only really eye-catching, but it completely matches the story. The colouring provides just the right mix of darkness and gore, and definitely adds to the atmospheric, almost gothic vibe of the setting. There are also the odd pages that require flipping the book to read to use the different page orientation to tell a broader story, rather than squish them into different sized panels.
Coffin Hill is a very cool, classic evil-in-the-woods story with a modern twist. I will definitely be continuing to read more of the adventures of Eve Coffin, and will definitely by checking out Caitlin Kittredge’s urban fantasy novels in future.