REVIEW: Belle: Headless Horseman Delivers the Action

An image of a masked woman holding an axe. She is standing in a dark forest. A headless man on a horse stands behind her.

Back again in a bloody adventure, beast hunter Belle DiMarco squares off against the Headless Horseman. The well-paced action and grisly horror elements make for an entertaining read, but the overbearing narration and chatty characters sometimes undermine the tension.

Belle: Headless Horseman

Julius Abrera (Artist), Dave Franchini (Writer), Igor Vitorino and Ivan Nunes (Cover Artists), Taylor Esposito (Letters), and Juan Manuel Rodriguez (Colors)
October 6, 2021

An image of a masked woman holding an axe. She is standing in a dark forest. A headless man on a horse stands behind her.

The story opens in a gory flourish as the Headless Horseman is presented holding the severed heads of three DiMarco women, one of whom appears to be Belle herself, their heads flaunted as trophies. A coven of three witches summons the Headless Horseman, evoking him from a page in a spellbook to collect the heads of their enemies. Meanwhile, the titular huntress Belle is at a crossroads. She is the last of her line with no romantic partners to speak of, her only companion in life being her best friend and tech-savvy assistant Mel. Life is passing Belle by, and she doesn’t have much to show for herself but a demolished family estate and a job that has cost her everyone she ever loved.

But there’s little time to grieve as Belle rushes to stop a series of beheadings reported in a nearby wealthy suburb. Here, she clashes with a leather-clad Headless Horseman, saving a woman from certain death. The Horseman sports an edgy character design with a spiky black leather outfit, the severed heads at his belt able to speak for him. It’s soon revealed that the coven has come into possession of the DiMarco family’s spellbooks and is using them to enact their vengeance on Belle through the Horseman. It isn’t made explicitly clear what their plan is or what the suburban beheadings have to do with their revenge plot against Belle, but the thin plot provides more than enough justification for the action set pieces.

Artist Julius Abrera provides two well-paced fight sequences between Belle and the Horseman with enough brutality peppered in to create real tension. The Horseman is unyielding, and that comes across in his ruthless physicality, the thick lines of heavy shadow and definition that make up his meaty form giving weight to every punch and strike. These sequences are well realized by colorist Juan Manuel Rodriguez, who brings pops of warm oranges and brown textures to break up the comic’s overall cool blues, greens, and beiges. It’s fun and satisfying to see play out as Belle adapts her strategies to outsmart an enemy she can’t defeat through combat alone.

If there’s one drawback to Abrera’s linework, it’s the repetition of awkward facial expressions, attempting to make the women attractive even while in peril or pain. I understand the aesthetic reasoning behind the choice in keeping Belle pleasing to look at, as this is a Zenescope book, but it does undermine the tension of the fight sequences. The conflicting emotional beats within a panel often distract from the visual narrative rather than serve it, and that’s disappointing.

Another detriment to the overall flow of the story is the scripting. Writer Dave Franchini has a clear skill for character voice and banter, but when text boxes and bubbles overwhelm the panel, it’s a disservice to the artist. Often Belle’s narration is simply telegraphing what’s on the page or announcing her reaction, which is plainly stated to the reader by the artwork. Letterer Taylor Esposito does a fine job of keeping the bubbles and boxes as restrained as possible, bringing Franchini’s text to the page without distracting from Abrera and Rodriguez’s work, but pages are still often cluttered.

Despite a few flaws, Belle: Headless Horseman is an entertaining action-adventure piece with some great fight sequences and enough splashy violence to satisfy readers. It’s quippy, fun, and worth picking up.

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed

Magen Cubed is a novelist, occasional critic, and general internet menace. Frequently seen hollering about monsters on Twitter.

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