Rock Candy Mountain #5
Writer/Artist: Kyle Starks
Colorist: Chris Schweizer
Publisher: Image Comics
A review by Samantha Pearson
Rock Candy Mountain #5 does not, in fact, pick up where the story last left off. Kyle Starks told me in my interview with him that this issue would be a flashback of Jackson’s life, but he didn’t tell me that it would be emotionally devastating. Things I never expected to do while reading a hobo epic: bawl my eyes out. Yet here we are.
In Rock Candy Mountain #5, we learn how Jackson got involved with the devil. We learn the origin of his walking stick. We see him kill a bunch of nazis. Last but not least, we see how he got involved in the hobo life. The latter is a series of events that is so heartbreaking I can’t stand it. Jackson has been through the wringer, which is obvious from the first four books in this series, but issue #5 gives us the details.
My best suggestion is to have a box of tissues handy when you read. You’ll need it.
Although the majority of Rock Candy Mountain #5 takes place three years prior to issue #1, in 1945, writer/artist Kyle Starks does quickly bring the issue back to the series’ present (1948). We see Jackson in 1945, fighting to the end of World War II; we see him in 1946, getting the crap kicked out of him by all the guys he beat in an underground fight ring. Then we see him five months before the start of the series, learning about the mythical Rock Candy Mountain. Finally, we jump back to where we left off at the end of issue #4, with seemingly everyone in the world trying to track Jackson down.
Many of the elements introduced in Rock Candy Mountain issues #1-4 start to come together in issue #5. Starks weaves together the various threads of Jackson’s life very carefully, which makes each realization feel earned. Jackson gives away so little of himself in dialogue that flashbacks and other character points of view are hugely important for figuring him out. Starks makes good use of time jumps and flashbacks in this issue, which is often hard to do without seeming trite or overdone.
Jackson’s past is deeply important to his present. Without seeing him in the war, or how he got there, or what happened after, we have no context for his current goals. And that makes it hard to root for him, especially because he’s so rough around the edges. Jackson has no qualms about doing whatever is necessary to get where he wants to go, which is sometimes super frustrating to read. Knowing the historical and personal context for his behavior changes that. Starks’ incorporation of actual history (with some plot-relevant changes) shows us that Jackson truly is a good guy, which is important. He’s an unlikely hero, but he’s still a hero. And he deserves our support, regardless how often he puts Pomona into near-death situations.
Yet again, Rock Candy Mountain #5 illustrates Kyle Starks’ passion for history, storytelling, and deeply layered, emotionally-driven characters. Chris Schweizer’s work in this issue absolutely blew me away. His colors are so evocative that every emotion hits with stunning impact. I said in my review of Rock Candy Mountain Vol. 1 that this series is ultimately about the limitations of human empathy and the vastness of hope. I stand by that assessment now.
“A hobo’s life is measured in the number of friends he has.” Jackson is genuinely bad at having friends, but he does have memories. And goals. He’s literally pursuing his own heaven, and I find myself praying that he gets there in the end. A certain element of this issue makes me think he can do it… but the consequences would be dire. I won’t say anymore than that.
Buy it! Rock Candy Mountain is a surprisingly emotional series that is steeped in history and passion. Issue #5 dives into the new arc with ferocity, walking us through Jackson’s past in stunning, beautifully-rendered detail. I have a feeling the series is about to take off, following the conclusion of this issue, and it’s a ride you definitely shouldn’t miss.
You can catch up on Rock Candy Mountain by picking up the Vol. 1 TPB here. Issue #5 hits stands on November 8, 2017.