The lingering traumas we suffer and the waking horrors we face because of them are themes that are pervasive in Carmen Maria Machado’s works. Her memoir, In the Dream House, established her knowledge of varied horror tropes but also this keen eye towards the abuse that isn’t seen. Machado, Dani Strips, Steve Wands and Tamra Bonvillain succeed in their ability to discuss the scars no one else can see. It is this great lens on the cuts and bruises that our foundations have always kept hidden. In The Low, Low Woods, Machado’s two protagonists are reminiscent of how skin tries to heal itself after an injury. The process leaves a symbol of the wound, but over time, like a memory, it can fade.
Narratively, readers are put through the effect of a haunted mystery for our two protagonists El and Octavia, and they are a wonderful duo to read. Machado’s voice along with the brilliant lettering by Steve Wands helps manage to keep a brilliant pace that doesn’t get too slow or too quick. The two, paired with shades of color by Bonvillain, maintains this wonderful absorption of the dread, the anxieties and the confusion these girls have encountered. The revelations that we encounter these characters, especially with the introduction to their friendship are a salve to an old wound.
For a first-time comic book author, Machado, along with her team of Strips, Wands, and Bonvillain, has a fantastic mastery and execution. Bonvillain’s color palette really ingratiates the characters and helps us to see their offset setting. For all the books available, this is one that best captures the ethos of childhood. The way it visualizes entangles me into the memories of lazy days where I felt the whole world was pressed upon me. This is pushed further by Strips’ amazing figures and inks that capture the awkward phase between childhood and adulthood. More complimentary is to see figures that are a display of people I would come across in a walkabout town.
Powerfully, the issue ends on an answer to the pronounced question in this issue: what happened at the theatre? And the answer proposed by our character and in a way by most of society is to forget. This issue presses itself as an indictment to how we voice our unseen scars. The most powerful panel in this issue is seeing the visual of El not being drawn with a mouth when she tries to voice evidence of her scar. This is the most resonant panel and so far, most incisive critique of what we as an audience put upon victims of rape, molestation, abuse or anyone else who sadly suffered a trauma. We hear them, but do not properly give them voices to be heard in. It’s seen, it’s known, but there isn’t a proper verbalization of this action.
In earnest, the last four pages of this issue give great insight into the suffering we have put upon victims. Some try to give voice and are left ostracized, and others attempt to forget and distract themselves. The issue ends with a nursery rhyme telling the singer to forget. Specifically, our “venison, carrion, leviathan”, meaning we must forget our innocence, our dead, and our fears. The most haunting aspect is the second to last, visual being of the girls clapping their hands together. In many ways, it serves as a visual reminder of the lingering violence people must consistently suffer through. This is confirmed further by the panel being entirely black.
I’m likely reading too much into the piece, but it is a strong indictment of how we inherit the violence in our world. With this being the second issue, Machado has cemented herself into the medium fantastically. For a “literary” reader like me, this is an exciting time to be reading a piece in an industry that’s sadly heavily male-dominated. Despite it being from the big two publishers, I have to praise DC for allowing Machado to tell such a powerful and socially relevant book like this. Readers in the industry can subconsciously learn a lot from this book, and I’m excited about the discussion that ensues because of it. This is a nice salve for everyone’s scars. Hopefully, together we may all see each other this way. Scars and all.