Read This Book- “Tenement #1” from Image Comics

The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the winter chill that has been in the air for far too long has finally lifted.

You know what that means. Time for some dark and sinister psychological horror!

This week I’ll be looking at Tenement #1 from Jeff Lemire, Andrea Sorrentino, and Dave Stewart. It’s a creepy new entry into The Bone Orchard Mythos, their growing shared horror universe, and if you liked Gideon Falls, you’re probably going to want to check this one out as well.

Before we dive into the blurb, let’s take a moment to learn a little about this shared universe itself.

The Bone Orchard Mythos has been described by Jeff Lemire as “the most ambitious thing [Andrea Sorrentino] and I have done together.” The goal was inspired by Sorrentino’s desire to tell stories that were connected to each other in the style of H.P. Lovecraft, and have a much darker tone than a lot of other books on the shelf at the time.

The Bone Orchard Mythos also takes on several different formats, from mini series, maxis series and one shots and everything in-between. All of the books are connected to each other through the shared universe, but the story is told in such a way that anyone can jump in at any point and still understand the self contained story they are reading, while also getting hints at the larger story connecting this universe together.

So if, like me, you’re generally wary of jumping on a new title that’s part of something bigger because you’re worried you’ll miss things, take heart, because even without the larger awareness of this universe you can still read and enjoy this story on its own without needing to read the rest.

So now that’s we’re all caught up, it’s time to dive into Tenement #1!

Here’s the blurb:

From the Eisner-winning creative team behind GIDEON FALLS PRIMORDIAL and TEN THOUSAND BLACK FEATHERS comes the biggest and most essential project yet in the bold and ambitious new shared horror universe of THE BONE ORCHARD MYTHOS!!!

In this extra-length first issue JEFF LEMIRE & ANDREA SORRENTINO bring you the story of seven residents in a building and the dark secrets that bind them together…beginning with a death that feels much more sinister than natural.

TENEMENT is the newest entry into THE BONE ORCHARD MYTHOS from LEMIRE & SORRENTINO. This universe features self-contained graphic novels and limited series about the horrors waiting to be discovered within the Bone Orchard.

Now, I know I said that we were done with backstory, but there is a little bit more that I want to share in order to help you understand my thoughts about Tenement. When Lemire and Sorrentino announced this shared universe, they had originally planned on Tenement being a stand alone graphic novel, and also strongly considered it to be the best entry point for new readers into this universe. Eventually they changed their minds about both approaches, expanding it to a longer mini series with a double sized first issue, and used a different title, The Passageway, as the first release in the series.

Knowing that Tenement was originally supposed to be a stand alone OGN and the first part of this series fills me with some inner conflict. See, as I’ve discussed before, I read a lot of first issues of new series, and I have certain expectations for what that first issue needs to do if it wants to bring me back for issue two. I’m an increasingly picky reader in my old age and if a book doesn’t grab me right away I don’t generally want to invest any more time into it that I feel it warrants.

There is a lot of really good stuff going in Tenement. I’m a huge fan of Jeff Lemire, and consider some of his series’ to be among my all time favorites. I also really respect and appreciate Andrea Sorrentino’s art, in this book in particular. It’s dark and moody and messy and atmospheric in the best of all possible ways.

And yet…Tenement just isn’t gripping me.

Maybe I’m burned out on horror. Maybe I’m not the target audience. Maybe I’m an idiot who can’t recognize greatness when I see it. Whatever it is, I just did not feel super invested in the first issue.

I think part of the problem for me is that this does feel a bit like an OGN that was cut up to make a series, kind of like when old cartoons would take movies and cut them up into 4-part episodes to air on TV. In a graphic novel format you can let the story grown more organically and allow things to percolate a bit before the plot really get’s moving.

But in a series format like this, well, it’s just not working as much as I would like it to.

See, Tenement follows 7 different characters, all of whom live in the same building, and all of whom are broken in some way. Some of them know each other well, while others know nothing about each other yet. Each is dealing with issues and trauma that are unique to them and yet they are all interconnected through this. It’s a great idea…but 7 characters in the first issue?

It’s just a lot all at once. I usually read a book the night before I write my review so that I can try to see if the book itself is memorable enough to have gripped my imagination. When I sat down to write this review I literally had to go back of reread the entire piece again because there was just so much that none of it stuck.

I’ve read books with a full cast of characters before, first issues with huge teams or families, and to me they work best when you have some hint of the larger story actually at play. Unfortunately, Tenement is so invested in protecting the mystery that I honestly have no idea what this series is actually about, beyond the fact that it’s supposed to be scary and there is a dark secret and 7 of these characters are involved, but not much else.

That kind of premise is a great start of an OGN, but as the first issue of a series, I’m sorry to say, I just wasn’t that compelled by anything in Tenement, and some of the layout choices left me scratching my head.

Now part of this is also the fault of many of these pages being double page spreads, which makes it frustrating to read in screener pdf format, and that screws up the experience that a paper book might help fix, but as I read this first issues I couldn’t help feel like there just wasn’t enough story here in this first issue, even at double sized length.

Don’t get me wrong, Tenement is a well-written book by an author at the top of his game, and it is beautifully illustrated book by one of the best artists out there today. But my personal feeling is thatTenement would have worked so much better if it would have stayed as an OGN, and when it does get a trade release I will definitely be picking it up to see if I was right.

Alright, that’s it for me this week. Until next time, Stay Safe.

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