Have you ever found yourself stuck at a party in a room full of people who enjoy small talk more than personal space? Have you ever wished you could just make them all leave you alone? Well here’s a trick. All you have to do is start talking about cannibalism and all those chatty people will slowly back away. Cannibalism has that effect. It’s one of those topics that doesn’t come up often. But when it does, like in this week’s Road of Bones #3 from IDW Publishing, written by Rich Douek, illustrated by Alex Cormack, and lettered by Justin Birch, it makes a grim impression.
Soviet prisoners Roman, Sergei, and Grigori escaped from the Kolyma labor camp with dreams of freedom. But after days in the bitter Siberian wilderness, that dream becomes a nightmare when their meager food supply is lost. Freezing and starving, the prisoners face a grave crossroads. Three men with no food cannot survive the trek. But two men, hunger sated by fresh meat, can. It’s a man eat man world, after all. Who will live, and who will be eaten?
After two issues of buildup, Road of Bones #3 finally delivers on its promise of Siberian horror. Or rather, it tries to. The issue opens with a scene of absolute depravity. Alex Cormack captures the momentum of the act in a tightly executed nine-panel grid. Each panel alternates between an act of butchery and the face of its only witness. The clearer Cormack’s art shows the act, the more intense the witness’s reaction grows. Scenes like this make it clear that Road of Bones #3 can do human horror with the best of them when it wants to.
Unfortunately, Road of Bones #3 doesn’t seem to want to. It starts with a bang but then reverts to a slow boil that builds to a cliffhanger. Cliffhanger endings are the name of the game in comics, and Road of Bones makes great use of its cliffhangers. Each one promises that the horrors are right about to start in the next issue. With such a strong opening scene, Road of Bones #3, looks like it’s about to make good on that promise! However, once that opening scene plays out, Road of Bones #3 returns to its glacier pace of never ending buildup. It inspires less horror than it does exasperation thanks to its sluggish pace.
Buildup without payoff can derail a comic, especially when cliffhangers come out to play. Ideally, every issue of Road of Bones should be able to stand on its own. But the cliffhanger style ties each issue to one another, forming a narrative chain. If each link promises that things will really start going in the next issue, then none have any bite to them. Road of Bones #3′s central act of human cannibalism should be horrifying. It’s supposed to be the payoff for all the past issues of buildup. But with the way the series has gone so far, it’s unclear how important that cannibalism even is to the narrative.
With three issues of limited series Road of Bones in the bag, it’s not clear when in the ‘next issue’ things will get good and actually begin to happen. For all the violence shown in this issue, none of it has the weight promised by each cliffhanger. Road of Bones #3 is a slow chill rather than a slow burn.
Road of Bones #3
With three issues of limited series Road of Bones in the bag, it’s not clear when in the ‘next issue’ things will get good and actually begin to happen.