Review | ‘Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer #1’
Victory Comics/ David Crownson
Writer: David Crownson
Artist: Courtland Ellis
When slave owners can’t stop the formidable ninja warrior Harriet Tubman, they call on the help of Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, & Demons to stop her. Harriet Tubman must lead a family of slaves to freedom while battling an army of darkness.
April 13, 2017
- Interesting concept
- Unexpected but welcome humor
- Fantastic character designs
- Some cringe-worthy one-liners
- Fight scenes are awkward and clunky
For a few years back in the early 2010s horror mash up stories were all the rage. Take an innocuous but well known thing and mix it with a fantasy horror trope and a new hit was made. These were most evident through books like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and probably a few others not written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Though that genre has been dormant for a few years, it’s come back quite well with the recent release of Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer.
Written by David Crownson, Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer takes place (appropriately) in 1860, deep in the heart of America’s days of Slavery. It opens with a slave family, the Edgefields, as they escape their plantation in search of a life as free folk. When they run afoul of a trio of shady white men, the Edgefields stand their ground only to discover that these men aren’t exactly what they seem to be. Luckily, a mysterious stranger, the eponymous Harriet Tubman, shows up to save them.
One of the things I liked most about the book is the humor. Within the first couple of pages, Crownson makes a joke at the expense of one of his characters and it’s brilliant because it serves a higher purpose than a mere moment of levity. In addition to setting the tone for the book, that initial joke lets the audience know that despite the heady subject matter, they’re allowed to laugh at the story. This is a necessary cue for readers like me, a middle class white man, during the times that the N-word gets bandied around. That word would (rightfully so) make modern audiences uncomfortable but was necessary to tell a story that borrowed heavily from the time of slavery and Harriet Tubman’s real-life struggle. Crownson breaks the ice early to alleviate any possible squeamishness.
The art on the book is superb. Courtland Ellis’ art is smooth, his figures realistic and graceful. There are no overly muscular men rippling through torn shirts. His women aren’t bodaciously disproportioned, and in fact have noticeably different body types. Ellis uses subtle facial expressions on his characters to portray emotions and tip the readers off to what they’re thinking, but he’s then able to go all out during the funny moments. It can be a jarring juxtaposition at times but really ramps up the humor.
The art isn’t perfect, though. Most of the pages are beautiful, however, there’s some panel progression that feels off. Some of the character movement is choppy and stilted, which is detrimental in a book that relies heavily on fight scenes. Thankfully, it’s easy to overlook because there are so many other things to enjoy but hopefully it improves as the series progresses.
Ellis also shines in how he draws backgrounds, notably in the way he uses large brushstrokes to signify foliage. It’s drastically different from mainstream comics and I absolutely love it.
My biggest problem with the book is the dialogue. While most of the characters’ speech is smooth and energetic, the story is sprinkled with one-liners that just seem trite and unnecessary. It tended to be more good than bad, though.
I also wasn’t a fan of the localized dialect. This was probably included to show how different groups speak differently and was effective in establishing the world the story takes place in. I felt like it slowed down the reading experience, forcing me to puzzle out what the characters were saying. I understand that I’m splitting hairs here and maybe sound a little pedantic but this was definitely my take away from the reading experience.
Also, I need to point out the book’s poor punctuation. Normally I don’t even notice the lettering in comic books but the fact that this drew my attention means that it really stood out. Granted, some of the punctuation choices may have been stylistic but there are some instances that are just inconsistent, making the lettering come off as lazy or rushed. Again, I have hope that this will be remedied in future issues.
Despite its flaws, though, one thing that Crownson gets right is the mystery surrounding Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer. His opening chapter focuses on establishing the characters. He doesn’t dive too far into why the vampires are chasing runaway slaves or even where Harriet comes from. We know nothing of her past, her upbringing, or how she knows how to fight. Crownson reveals just enough to whet my appetite but not too much that I lose interest and don’t return for the second issue.
Having purchased Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer on a whim during Free Comic Book Day (it was funded through a successful Kickstarter), I have no idea how to get a physical copy of the book. However, you can buy it in digital on Comixology and Peep Game Comix. And I wholly recommend you pick it up. Not only is this book a fun read but it’s also an interesting take on the horror mash-up genre and the life of one of the most prolific American humanitarians.