By d. emerson eddy — The Kolyma Highway was a project started in 1932, utilizing criminals (ones having committed what we'd generally consider an actual crime and others who were essentially railroaded through to fill labour quotas) to build a road in the Far East of the USSR. Conditions were reportedly cruel and harsh, hard living in an arctic and sub-arctic region with little when it came to food or shelter, workers collapsing with regularity, giving the highway its name of the Road of Bones. It's this history that Rich Douek, Alex Cormack, and Justin Birch tap into in the first issue of this horror series, Road of Bones.
Cormack's artwork is dark and oppressive. Low light and suggestive shapes that capture well the horrible conditions of our protagonist, Roman Morozov, a political prison sent to the gulags for “slander against Stalin”. His style reminds me of the approach that CP Smith, Tomm Coker, and Alex Maleev tend to take, with heavy shadows and a kind of smoky layer atop the art that makes it feel like the atmosphere is thick. It works even better as members of the gulag's actual criminal underworld appear with their roadmap of tattoos.
This constricting and deadly atmosphere provided by the art works well in tandem with the characterizations of the guards and the prisoners, where essentially everything and everyone is out to kill you, in a bleak landscape. In this first issue, Douek firmly establishes the real life and historical aspect of the situation in Russia, showing a horrific and deadly fight for survival, but there's a hint of a supernatural aspect as well. Part of the central conflict and cause for reprisal for Roman comes in him spiriting away bits of food for a domovik, an ancestral house spirit in ancient Slavic mythology. The survival aspect is intriguing to begin with, but the possibility of something more hooks well, making you wonder what's coming next.
I quite like the lettering style from Justin Birch as well. The font he's chosen has upturned horizontal bars on letters like “L” and “E”. It reminds me a bit of the style Willie Schubert uses for Deathstroke.
Overall, this is an impressive debut that taps into a recent resurgence of interest in Russian history and mythology, giving us a look at an area of the world that often goes overlooked in Western culture. Douek, Cormack, and Birch give us an intriguing look into the reality of the horror that prisoners suffered under the Soviet system and give a hint at worse things waiting to keep us coming back.
Road of Bones #1
Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Alex Cormack
Letterer: Justin Birch
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d. emerson eddy is a student and writer of things. He fell in love with comics during Moore, Bissette, & Totleben's run on Swamp Thing and it has been a torrid affair ever since. His madness typically manifests itself on Twitter @93418.