Dylan Pearl ‘17 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The human psyche is a fragile thing. Although seemingly immutable, it is, in reality, a delicate and easily broken collection of memories and experiences. What are we to do then, when everything we love is taken from us? How do we overcome the crushing anxiety and self doubt that can so easily set in when the mind is allowed to wander to the darkest corners of consciousness? These are the issues taken on by Heart in a Box, written by Kelly Thompson and drawn by Meredith McClaren.
Heart in a Box follows the story of Emma, a girl who, in a moment of heartbroken desperation, makes a Faustian bargain with Bob, an ethereal “heart acquisition specialist” to remove her heart, and the pain she feels. She quickly discovers however, that a heart is a necessary part of being a person, and must go on a quest to retrieve the scattered pieces of herself in order to become whole again, literally mending her broken heart.
This is probably the most inventive way to tell a story about overcoming heartbreak. It takes the classic story of teen angst and flips it, empowering the protagonist instead of making her a victim. Emma is not a passive observer, waiting helplessly for her feelings to pass, or needing a new man to make her forget her sadness. She is actively pursuing her heart, taking charge of her life and in the process, overcoming the pain that lead her to this point in the first place. It’s almost like a classic fairytale. There is a treasure that must be found, spread into several pieces, and the hero must go forth and collect them all, defeating the guardians who stand in her way. However, in this story, the guardians are less fire breathing monsters and more innocent waitresses and ex boyfriends. It provides some interesting dilemmas for our hero, as Emma faces all manner of ethical quandaries in her travels. Is it right to kill an old man, or an animal, if it means getting the thing you need? How far is too far? These are tough questions to answers, and ones that Heart in A Box doesn’t necessarily answer. Like any good story, it leaves that open to the reader’s interpretation.
Special mention should be made of Bob, the magical heart acquisitionist. His role would seemingly be that of the trickster, who offers the protagonist what they think they desire, only to destroy them in the end. However, this is not his function at all. Bob is just a force of nature, like the wind. He is neither good nor bad; he simply fulfills requests. He reflects what people present to him. This is a refreshing take on a classic story trope. Too often in stories, we as an audience are force fed answers, even if the answer doesn’t fit. We, as people, are very uncomfortable with ambiguity. Having a character whose motivations and backstory are completely unknown is a bold move, but one that ultimately pays off, creating a character who drives the story without being central to it. Bob is charming, and helpful, but also mysterious; he leaves the audience wanting to know more about him, the sign of a great character.
This is a story about finding oneself, overcoming depression, becoming a better person, and taking back your life, literally. These themes are strong throughout the work, and the literal interpretation of “giving your heart to someone” is very clever. Ultimately however, the story suffers from its brevity. The concept is solid, and the characters are interesting, they just aren’t given enough time to explore the world that’s being presented. The plot feels rushed; several key plot points play out over the course of a few panels when they could have been explored in an entire chapter. The story, which at first seems to be an action adventure, turns into a more introspective piece as it progresses. This is fine, but it requires that the audience really identify with the characters, which can take time. This isn’t to say that Heart in a Box isn’t good. On the contrary, it is clever, cohesive and succinct, and puts forth a strong message. It is simply that it feels that there could have been more, had the story been given more time to develop.
All in all, Heart in a Box is a good comic, but one that may have been better served as a longer series.
The 160-page Heart in a Box collection is published by Dark Horse Comics for $14.99