Review - Road of Bones #1 (@IDWPublishing)

"Nothing...I'm hiding nothing."

Prison life isn't something anyone chooses. That was especially true around the time of the World Wars with many prisoners incorrectly imprisoned on what were seemingly whims. In Road of Bones #1 from IDW Publishing, one such prisoner is seeking an avenue of escape. The issue is written by Rich Douek, illustrated by Alex Cormack and lettered by Justin Birch.

In 1953, the Siberian Gulag of Kolyma is hell on Earth-which is why Roman Morozov leaps at the chance to escape it. But even if they make it out, Roman and his fellow escapees still have hundreds of miles of frozen tundra between them and freedom. With the help of a mysterious being straight out of his childhood fairy tale stories, Roman just might make it-or is the being simply a manifestation of his brutal circumstances driving him insane?

New prisoner Roman Morozov feels like the central character in the first issue as Douek funnels the narrative through him in an effort to tell a larger story. That larger story seems to blend together elements of historical recollection and fairy tales as Douek's script follows along with Morozov's plight while incarcerated. What's most striking about the issue is the sheer brutality of it all in that Douek doesn't shy away from making the guards miserable and sadistic. In just about any other story, the concept of a mysterious being using savagery to provide protection would be terrifying in its own right, but Douek effectively juxtaposes that personality with the brutal atmosphere under Stalin's reign. The aforementioned fairy tale being is rarely mentioned in the issue, although the ending provides something of a glimpse at it and offers a notion of its savage nature.

There's something about horror in the notion that what's unseen is even more terrifying--it's a notion that Cormack emphasizes in his illustrative style. Most of the issue is rendered in near complete shadows which is effective at setting the tone of mystery and violence. That being said, there are points during the issue where it's so dark that it's very difficult to know exactly what's going on and tell the characters apart from one another. What you can see emphasizes the violence of the gulag and the soldiers; Cormack is very aggressive in depicting the aggression of the guards, right down to the violent beatings. This is primarily born out by the splashes of red blood against the otherwise dark setting.

Road of Bones #1 is an interesting first issue in that it's adding folk tale to history. Roman Morozov is determined to escape his current situation and he may get a little help from someone unexpected in doing so. Douek's script is pretty straightforward and well-paced, setting up the dire situations the characters find themselves continually faced with. Douek's artwork is appropriate for the content of the issue in that it's very good at capturing the sheer despair that comes with the gulags. Road of Bones #1 is a rather dark first issue that portends even more horror to come as the series unfolds.

Road of Bones #1 is available now.