Writer: Rich Douek
Artist: Alex Cormack
Letterer: Justin Birch
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Road of Bones #1 is a riveting supernatural miniseries about a political prisoner who flees a Stalin-era Gulag with the help of a hungry Slavic fairy. The expert balance of horror, folklore, and history engages and frightens you from several directions at once. Like the mythical creatures of Russian lore, this four-issue comic pulls you in, keeps you in its clutches, and does not let you go until it has had its way with you.
The story opens in a mid-1950s Siberian work camp, where Roman Morozov toils away at a 25-year prison sentence for making a joke about Stalin. Things only get worse when the warden gives him 10 more years for hoarding food. But the contraband is for a hungry Domovik, the fantastic being of Russian fables. Does the fairy exist? Morozov thinks so, as he and others escape during a disturbance at the prison. Low on food, the fugitives face a punishing march across the tundra to secure their freedom.
The Gulag is the most frightening thing about Road of Bones #1. Writer Rich Douek (Gutter Magic) does a fine job pacing a story about the futility and senselessness of life in a prison camp. His wise decision to dole the fairy out in small bits allows us to focus better on Morozov. Unlike other prisoners, the hero does not give up hope. Believing in the fairy is his way of coping with a place where many are thinking about suicide. Or, his situation is so desperate that he conjures a delusion to convince himself to escape. Either way, the psychological dimension is worth watching as this comic unfolds over subsequent issues.
Artist Alex Cormak (Sink) skillfully brings to life the story’s desperation and uncertainty. Strong line-work and visceral expressions remind us what happens to men who are confined too long without hope. The use of sharp black-white contrasts gives the camp a dark and sinister feel. The surrounding tundra, on the other hand, is vast and empty. Light purples and pinks set against this wasteland make us feel the chilling temperatures that the escapees will have to endure in order to survive their getaway.