Trevor’s monstrous little brother lives in the barn behind the house. The boy’s only six years old, but he towers over his older brother, and possesses incredible strength. For years, Trevor has looked after his baby brother, keeping him from the light, but now that’s all about to change. His family’s secret is about to be revealed, uncovering the horrible truth of the small Midwestern town the boys have grown up in.
Steve Niles’ six issue story of child “freaks” kept under lock and key in a small Midwestern town is being collected into a deluxe hardcover edition. Freaks of the Heartland was written by Steve Niles (30 Days of Knight, Criminal Macabre, Gotham County Line) with Greg Ruth(Conan, Creepy Comics, Alabaster) on art and covers.
The story is set in what appears to be the 1920s or 30s in a small and isolated Midwestern town. Trevor is a young boy who has a rough time with his father, who is prone to drink. Trevor also is taking care of his little brother Will who is one of the so-called “freaks.” Will is kept locked up in the barn with little to no contact besides Trevor. He is fed and occasionally taken outside at night by Trevor. After one of the other “freaks” mutilates a pig, Trevor finds out that there are others like Will still alive. Trevor and Will’s father wants kill Will like he wanted to do when Will was born. When it looks like the others will be killed, Trevor frees Will and the two go about finding the others and looking for their place in the world.
The story has hints of Of Mice and Men, but with deformed or mutant children. Trevor is the protective older brother, but still a child himself. Will is a wide eyed innocent who is experiencing the outside world for the first time. Steve Niles does a great job of capturing that time period and tweaking it to fit the horror-like aspects that are his trademark. The dialogue could have easily gone to cliché and cheesy in a second, but Niles makes reasonable and believable choices for each character. I do have to say the one negative with the story is that it seems to just end. You get to the big confrontation at the end and then you have the epilogue set decades and decades later. The story is strong, but the end feels a bit jarring. It works and is just as heartwarming as the rest of the story though.
Greg Ruth’s art is breathtaking. You could take any panel out of any of the issues and hang it on your wall as art. The wide shots of the plains and fields, to the close ups of characters are simply amazing. There are occasional pages of no dialogue where the art has to carry the story along. These small moments are portrayed brilliantly by Ruth.
Bottom Line: Steve Niles and Greg Ruth craft a fantastic tale that comes down to something as simple as two brothers growing up. The story was published in 2004 with the trade coming out in 2005, but if you still haven’t picked it up the hardcover would be a perfect addition to your library. There are some sketches and character notes that round out the collection as well as the six covers featured in the back. If you haven’t read this yet and are a fan of old school horror, heartwarming stories, or just plain old great art this is worth a shot. I give Freaks of the Heartland Hardcover Edition a 5/5.