THIS REVIEW OF ‘ROAD OF BONES’ #2 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Sara Mitchell. Road of Bones is about three inmates who escape a violent labor camp in Soviet Russia and the journey they must then endure through the frozen mountains. In issue #2, we find Roman, Sergei, and Grigori a number of weeks into their journey towards, if all goes according to plan, their eventual freedom. Road of Bones is a tale of limits. Mental, physical, geographical—ultimately, the limits of control. How far does the control you have over your own hunger reach? How far does the control of comrade Stalin reach over you?
Roman, Sergei, and Grigori are all clinging to stories to keep themselves alive. Whether it’s hope, delusion, or downright lies—aside from a small amount of bread, the clothes on their backs, and each other—the stories are all they have. Even the guards sent to track them down are just following a narrative passed down to them; they’re pretending to care simply because everyone else is pretending to care. What you come to learn as a reader of Road of Bones is that you have to interrogate these narratives that the characters tell each other. You’ve got to ask who the story is coming from. Why did that person tell you this story? Are there consequences to your faith in the story? Who has the control? It’s a painful journey that we take with our characters as we reconcile the sources of their beliefs. Stories of hope in the hands of your grandmother might keep you alive, but stories in the hands of your foe may just keep you alive long enough for them to get what they need. On the Road of Bones the line between hope and propaganda is as treacherous as the road itself.
As we spend more time on the road, we experience a shift in the artwork. After we leave the prison we see a transition from darkness to color, from muddled to detailed. The sky is brighter, even at night, and the stories they tell each other become vivid dreams. The most striking aspect, however, is that their faces become more detailed. It’s so impressive. Our characters are shrouded in furs, hats, gloves, coats—at first I couldn’t distinguish one from the other. I thought I’d never truly see them. As it turns out, Artist Alex Cormack was just waiting; steadily moderating the precise release of a gauge, he moderates our exposure to their faces, their details. The more time you spend with a face, the more of the face you’ll see. Or, conversely, more of the face that character will no longer be able to hide. The more of their humanity, or inhumanity, ruptures through to the surface.
Writer Rich Douek has created a conversation that’s nuanced, well paced, funny, and heartbreaking. When his characters speak, they are more than just men on pages subject to a writer’s will. Their rage and their fear and their hope are more alive than any fiction. In this issue, Grigori says, “Take a bag of food, and a bag of friendship on a journey. See which one fills your belly along the way,” and I’ve never been so struck by the fact that I am extremely fortunate. I may never be in that situation. Ever. I’ll probably always be in the fortunate position to carry a bag of friendship along the way, because there’s a fair chance that food might always be in my bag as well. But when it isn’t, and I’m forced to choose, do I still get to be me? Do I still get to be a nuanced individual, or am I stripped down to the bare bones of survival—an animal fighting to live simply because there’s an instinct inside my body telling me to do so. Or would I just lie down? Exposed to the elements, hunger, and eventually death, in order to save my humanity?
IDW Publishing / $3.99
Written by Rich Douek.
Art by Alex Cormack.
Letters by Justin Birch.
8 out of 10
Check out this 5-page preview of ‘Road of Bones’ #2, courtesy of IDW Publishing!