Few comics capture the fear of being frozen alive quite like IDW Publishing’s Road of Bones #2, written by Rich Douek, illustrated by Alex Cormack, and lettered by Justin Birch. Set during the iciest days of the Soviet Union, this series pits its characters in a race against time, with death by starvation and exposure hot on their heels.
In Road of Bones #2, Russian prisoners Roman, Sergei and Grigori are fresh from their escape, fleeing across the Siberian landscape in search of freedom. With frost at their heels and starvation on the horizon, the escapees struggle to survive the raw brutality of the mountains as their meager food supply runs out. Then events take a turn from bad to worse. High among the Siberian Mountains, Roman finds that the greatest danger to his survival may be the men he’s traveling with.
Road of Bones #2 nails down a bleak and oppressive atmosphere. Last issue lingered on the cruelties of the Gulag, where man’s inhumanity to man was put full on display. But this issue takes a different tact. Because when you’re a prisoner on the run along the Road of Bones, the prison guards are the least of your worries. It’s the cold indifference of Nature that you got to look out for. Exposure and starvation threaten to wipe our cast from the very first page. You can almost feel the cold leech the heat from your hands as you read.
With this shift in external threats, this issue brings the miniseries’ actual shape into better view. The skeletal Domovic seen in issue number one returns in Road of Bones #2. But rather than making the slavic monster a threat, the creature acts more as a narrator, speaking to Roman as his companions grow crueler. While Road of Bones may be a horror story, it’s one grounded in reality. The most dangerous threat, it says, aren’t monsters from folklore, but the people that stand beside you. Whether that’s a direction you’re into is a bit of a coin flip, as grounded human atrocity varies wildly from supernatural folk horror.
But just as the aims of Road of Bones #2 grow clearer, so do its downsides. As much as the book masters the art of atmosphere, it struggles to communicate its action. Each of our escaped prisoners rock the same basic outfit, which makes telling each of the principal cast apart a challenge. In the same vein, Cormack depicts all three men with bearded, frostbitten faces that look just shy of mincemeat.
In terms of realism, this uniformity works. Prisoners tend to dress alike after all, and with the violence of their escape and brutal weather conditions of Siberia, it makes sense to rough up their faces to show frostbite. But as accurate as those visual elements are, they don’t make the book any easier follow.
Uniform faces with uniform silhouettes depicted in heavy shadow do not easily distinguish themselves from one another, especially not against the harsh Siberian Landscape. As a result, Road of Bones #2 pacing suffers for this. Not because it’s unrealistic or poorly constructed, but because readers have to constantly reassess which character is which throughout the issue.
Overall, Road of Bones #2 attempts to bridge the gap between prison escape and survival horror. It takes us beyond the Gulag and into the wilderness, where true nightmares can happen. It doesn’t make the transition without missing a step, but by the end of this issue, it’s clear that the real horror is on the way. Definitely pick up Road of Bones #2 and see what this book is made of.
Road of Bones #2 is available now.
Road of Bones #2
Road of Bones #2 attempts to bridge the gap between prison escape and survival horror. It takes us beyond the Gulag and into the wilderness, where true nightmares can happen.