“Road of Bones” #1 Review: It’s Just Tissue
“Road of Bones” #1 posits that the hell you know is probably better than the hell you don’t – even when it’s a Russian gulag. Warning: minor spoilers ahead.
Story: Rich Douek
Art: Alex Cormack
Letters: Justin Birch
Publisher: IDW Publishing
“Road of Bones” #1 introduces us to Roman, who’s imprisoned in a gulag for making a joke at a party about Comrade Stalin. Things go downhill from there.
Douek’s storytelling is fast, gritty and incredibly grim, which is what you want out of a good horror comic. Roman appears to be something of an innocent, at least compared to some of the men around him. He helps his friend Sergei, leaves food out for a domovik and even helps some of his friends escape in the midst of a brutal power struggle. Douek spends time painting him as a little sentimental, which helps sell the book’s reveal later on. Whether the thing in question is actually here, or just a manifestation of Roman’s desperate mind and animal instincts, remains to be seen.
Sanity is in question in “Road of Bones” in many ways, from the internal grappling of the camp forces to the bleak, unbroken threat of the wilderness. Roman’s in an impossible situation, surrounded by people who’re also in an impossible situation, and the only way out is to try something. Anything at all, no matter how crazy it feels. Douek includes a small bit dialogue between two guards that demonstrates how unsafe everyone is in a fascist state – even those who take up arms and try to uphold its structure. Douek’s work in “Road of Bones” makes the superstitious seem not just plausible, but desirable when compared with the day-to-day.
Cormack’s art is great, with a lot of fine detail to help the book appear sketchy, skeletal and unerringly bleak. Nighttime scenes often appear as if they’re drawn in negative, with deep shadows filling the characters’ diminishing bodies. Cormack pays close attention to light sources in “Road of Bones,” as well. They’re either harsh and dramatic or grey and dying out, and when Cormack uses both effectively in a panel it’s a thing of beauty. Roman is almost always bent over or shown at an angle to reinforce how little power he has in this situation. The layouts are measured, with rigid panel borders and the occasional 9-panel page to slow time and keep the comic’s tension high. Roman’s incident with the camp’s commander is mirrored quite nicely later on in the book, although there’s a bit more hellfire the second time around, and that final splash is exquisite in its gory detail. The colors are understandably limited, but Cormack doesn’t skimp on red when he needs to, and the escape scene gives way to some nice subtle purples and pinks as the three men doze by the fire and Roman has his first encounter with the unknown. Cormack also features some nice oil-paint-style muzzle flares during the prison riot scene that make the panel feel like a descent into Hell.
Birch’s lettering adds a hint of softness to the book. The balloons are just slightly irregular to give that hand-drawn look, and the font features some nice left-leaning curves to offset the slashed consonants. The font helps communicate that Roman’s barely hanging on, in more ways than one. There’s very little padding in the balloons, which is especially nice in the darker scenes to avoid too much harsh contrast. The sound effects are minimal, as any cartoonishness in this book would actually detract from the mood, but they’re effective when they do appear.
Overall, “Road of Bones” piles on the hopelessness from the start but takes time to paint Roman as an earnest protagonist in a bleak world. He’s caught between the brutality of man and nature, and we’ll have to keep reading to see just how much of his humanity he manages to hang on to as he and his fellow prisoners struggle toward an uncertain, and most likely bloody, future.
“Road of Bones” drops this NCBD, so pick up a copy to stave off the chill of the night and the things that bump around in it.
“Road of Bones” #1 impresses with its bleak locale, sympathetic characters and bold dose of horror and gore.