In a continuing quest to become utterly lost within the pages of comic book nirvana, what Johnson and Flaviano have given here is potentially the road map to such a destination.
From time to time a comic will come along that catches me by surprise. When it happens, it is almost always draped in shades of vivid wonderful. When it happens, I can almost feel tangible hooks digging in to my delighted surprise, and a warm, cosy blanket being draped across excited shoulders for the journey to come. Low Road West caught me by surprise.
The story is built upon the foundations of war, or rather the casualties of war. America is in flames and five refugee children are travelling by bus across the ashes of their war torn country en-route to, San Francisco, and the promise of a new, brighter dawn. The story is set-up beautifully via a radio transmission that crackles its message of hope and warning to the passengers as they rumble slowly across a desolate, crumbling landscape.
In the wake of a fuel deprived engine, some metallic juddering, and a bus driver who leaves the kids stranded without so much as a, “Good luck”, as he pedals his stashed bicycle off into a distant horizon, the young passengers find themselves stranded miles from…well, miles from anything, it seems. And so, like the hardened war weary souls they have become, they put their best feet forward and begin to walk.
From here I was a little worried. This early set-up plays out across the first few pages, and it left me expecting to begin a journey through some very well-worn post-apocalyptic storytelling the likes of which have been drained cleaner than a post-apocalyptic fuel tank time and time again. And yet, it was here that I became hooked. What actually began to unfold was a story that immediately let me forget momentarily about the bleak setting, and instead enjoy the back and forth of conversation and emotion between some, already, wonderfully intriguing characters. The writing from the pen of, Phillip Kennedy Johnson, is beautifully realistic, beautifully understated and, normal, I think the word is. It is something that instantly breathes life into the characters and allows the reader to become lost in the story. This is where I found myself. Then, things got really good!
What at first glance appeared to be the morning stretch of a new, “life in the apocalypse” tale, quickly began to reveal its true form. Within the confines of an opening issue, Low Road West, delivers layer upon layer of delicious, question raising, mind bending, intrigue. It veers from the often trod path almost as soon as it sets one foot forward, and drags us deep along some far more interesting routes. Routes that leave genuine surprise upon the face of the reader, or at least this reader, and the whole story instantly elevates itself to fantastic, and unexpected, new heights.
I will always try to avoid offering too much story, or too much detail in my reviews as in my mind it detracts greatly from the experience for the first time reader, so, with that in mind I’ll leave the twists unturned and the turns untwisted in the hope that you will be able to revel in them with a similar level of delight as I did.
I will however, talk artwork. There is something special in the marriage of words and pictures, when it works that is, when each perfectly compliments the other to the point that you almost don’t really appreciate their individual brilliance until the first read is done and you can pore back over each panel in greater, more appreciative, detail. Such a marriage is strong within, Low Road West. Flaviano has captured more than just a realistic backdrop of burnt out vehicles and desolate places, he has also brought the characters that inhabit this tale into vivid, screaming life! Emotions drip from the faces of every character on every page, we see steel, and warmth, horror, and happiness, and no single line feels wasted. In a continuing quest to become utterly lost within the pages of comic book nirvana, what Johnson and Flaviano have given here is potentially the road map to such a destination.
There is little more to say. Low Road West is a stunning opening issue. It has raised the bar to some dizzying heights, and now I can only hope that what lies ahead can at least match what has been delivered here. Oh, and, yeah, you should buy this comic today. No, wait, build a time machine, buy a DeLorean, nip over to CERN, do whatever, and buy it yesterday