Review: Road of Bones #1 (IDW Publishing)

In the time since we enjoyed the fantastic Gutter Magic, it’s creator Rich Douek has been busy working on licensed titles as well as the odd creator owned ideas – including this one, Road of Bones. Douek is joined by artist Alex Cormack and letterer Justin Birch to bring us the story of one man’s survival in a frozen Russian Prison.

Publisher: IDW Publishing
Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Alex Cormack (Artist), Justin Birch (Letterer)
Price: £2.49 from ComiXology

Road of Bones follows Roman Ivanovich Morozov, a political prisoner trapped in a hard labour camp for the simple crime of saying the wrong thing about the Soviet leadership. Like all his fellow inmates, Roman attempts to stay under the radar of the guards, lest they offer him a beating to make the hard labour that much more harder. However, this is something Roman fails when he is caught hoarding food by the guards, all in the ridiculous belief of appeasing a fairy tale creature into protecting him. Now, with fresh bruises and an increased sentence, Roman joins with like-minded fellow prisoners to attempt a daring escape from this frozen hell. But, it turns out that the escape may just be the easy part.

Rich Douek has produced a seriously engrossing comic in Road of Bones. The story feels incredibly brutal from the get go, with the characters really imbuing their environment to help sell this idea. Chief among them is protagonist Roman, who feels truly out of his depth here as everyone he meets feels hard and dangerous as the frozen landscape he is trapped in. Fortunately, Douek does well to layer Roman with lots in depth and character to really help sympathize with him. Meanwhile, while they don’t feel as fully formed as the lead (and even a bit stereotypically cartoonish in comparison), all of the background characters are all similarly interesting, with the guards in particular coming across as scarily vile.

Douek has really done his research into Soviet Russia as the entire issue really gives an authentic vibe, and makes you question (along with the mystery of whether the Donovik is in fact real) whether this is meant to be a period drama or supernatural horror all the way throughout.

Meanwhile, Alex Cormack’s turn on the art duties is is every bit the equal to Douek’s writing, with his style giving a reminiscence of the accurate style seen in in other titles like Michael Lark’s work on Lazarus or (more fittingly) Steve Epting’s pages in Sara. Of course, unlike those, Cormack’s style is a lot rougher but this works well with the books aesthetic, and his work is amazingly detailed from Grigori’s Vor tattoos to Roman’s bloodshot eye which just adds to that lived in, brutal layer for the story.

Of course, Cormack’s work isn’t perfect as the scenes during the dark/night periods are a little hard to follow, especially at the end. However, these are easily forgiven thanks to the rest of his terrific work, topped off by the unsettlingly eerie cliffhanger visuals at the end which may or may not be revealing Roman guardian fairy.

Douek, Cormack and the terrific letters by Justin Birch have produced a dark and disturbing, yet genuinely intriguing tale about survival in one of the most vicious environments the world has ever known. With a compelling story, fantastic art and a first issue ending that leaves you with more questions than answers, Road of Bones is definitely a comic series worth travelling along.