By Zack Quaintance — Let’s start at the beginning of Road of Bones #1 (I’m told that is generally a very good place to start): artist Alex Cormack delivers one hell of an establishing shot. I’m a sucker for grandiose scene-setting in comics, and this book certainly delivers that. Road of Bones #1 introduces us to its world and subject matter with a detailed and gritty splash depicting a snowy prison camp within 1950’s USSR. You can practically feel the cold as the prisoners shovel and the guards scowl, ready to reprimand (beat down) any who step out of line. It’s one hell of an intro, perfectly chosen for this story about gulags and hopes and impossible odds and the compromises men make for freedom.
Immediately after that first page comes the violence and oppression. And the audience can feel that as well. Indeed, Road of Bones is an immersive comic throughout, using the graphic medium to present a nigh-singular mix of bleak imagery and minimalistic text that puts readers in a darkened prison camp mess hall, or on the icy ground as the body gives out, the work stops, and the beating from the guards begin. Immersion is a high achievement that all stories aim for yet few achieve at the level of Road of Bones. I’d also go so far as to say that here the immersion is crucial to this reading experience.
Road of Bones is basically historical fiction (an under-explored genre in comics, if you ask me), and it’s chosen to focus its attention on an oppressive setting during oppressive times. It would be easy for the story to slip into overwhelming cynicism. The creative team, however, is so granular with its storytelling and its choice of moments, that the emotions of the characters break through the severity of the setting to take center stage. The most important of those emotions is hope. This is a story of escape from some of the worst conditions in recent human history. Hope is what the whole thing is really about.
There are also some twists and other layers of interest that come as our story proceeds, but this is a first issue and the twist is part of it, so I won’t go into detail about those. I’ll just tell you that Road of Bones #1 is one heck of a reading experience, one of those perfectly-structured comics that feels dense and rewarding while at the same time flying right by, powered by expert last panel cliffhangers on its page turns. Even if you’re not interested in the historical subject matter, this book merits pickup with its impressive use of craft. Go forth, and enjoy it.
Overall: An immersive historical tale that walks the perfect tightrope between oppression and hope, Road of Bones #1 is a fantastic series debut. I highly recommend getting aboard this title from its start. 9.0/10
Road of Bones #1
Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Alex Cormack
Letterer: Justin Birch
Publisher: IDW Publishing
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.