Today, the second issue of Low Road West arrives from Boom! Studios, co-created by Phillip Kennedy Johnson and Flaviano, with colors by Miquel Muerto and letters by Jim Campbell. The title of the comic seems to be derived from a rogue radio station broadcasting through a devastated area of the country frequented by transports carrying refugees from the East Coast to the West Coast during a time of international war for the USA.
And those passengers, in this case, are a group of kids ranging from ten years old through to their teens. They’ve lost everything in horrifying ways–their stories are only starting to emerge–and in various ways they are all broken and acting out. One question in my mind, and perhaps the minds of other readers is: are they going to become total assholes or worse, psychos, as they come out of this experience into an even more challenging world than they can imagine? Or is there some kind of redemptive arc for them?
It’s a truism that kids are resilient, but it’s also a psychological truth that our childhoods stay with us in ways we often little suspect, until something surprising happens to bring it all back around again. Johnson has hinted in interviews that there are going to be all kinds of crazy elements coming into play in this weird and violent town where our protagonists have turned up, or rather been dumped by the only adult supposed to look after them, including dust storms, undead animals, soldiers, a house that’s in some ways alive, and even a door to another world, and that’s not even the complete list.
So, I think what we’re looking at in Low Road West, and what we’re getting stuck into for issue #2, is a kind of labyrinth journey for these kids. And that maze is a personal one, different for each of them. Will they find a kind of thread within themselves to lead them out to a place where they can take stock of their world, and stand up to it? Or will they retreat further within and become shaped and limited by their negative experiences?
Surprisingly, that answer may depend on the relationships that develop between them. If they remain negative, that could blunt their ability to move forward emotionally. If the relationships contain positive elements, they could each be an Ariadne to each other. Like in any good drama, I suspect we’re going to see elements of both possibilities as the story moves onward.
But I doubt you’ll be thinking of anything thematic as you’re actually reading the comic. There are too many exciting, weird elements dramatized by Flaviano, and hair-raising little moments to keep you in the story. By the end of the first issue, the distrustful kids are beginning to talk to each other, thrown together by the pressures of seeing an animal resurrect, facing a group of brutal attackers, and entering a house that has a mind of its own.
Now, in issue #2, we’ve got Emma and Ben (siblings), Shawn, Angela, and Amir, facing a different kind of darkness as they get their first glimpse of the town of Duster’s Wake. They already wonder if they are “trapped” in this town, something Amir won’t accept. But as the kids start to explore the town and the house, there’s a lot more too that idea than Amir is going to be comfortable with. Issue #2 really sets up the premise of this story, whereas issue #1 set up the characters and the world, so it’s at this point that the story starts moving much more quickly and informational reveals start rolling in for our characters.
Without getting into spoiler territory, we know that the town of Duster’s Wake already seems to be operating under its own rules of life, death, and change, and that it has a kind of gravitational pull for those who wander into it, making it difficult or impossible to wander out. Now we get the “game like” elements of the story, and even Shawn refers to the exploration of the town as being like a video game and he presupposes “bosses” they must fight. Now we’re also really going to see Flaviano and Muerto unleashed in creating beings and effects that transcend the mundane, and learn that Duster’s Wake has a history going back into the 19th century, if not before, and an unusual relationship to time and space.
That kind of stuff is just as fascinating to me as the introduction of new characters, both congenial and threatening, as we’ll see in this issue. What the creative team do well is hint that this world is hard to know, hard to be sure of, and yet discoverable in small doses. That makes for solid storytelling and a sense of bigger things to come.
Let’s not forget that Low Road West is not easy on the nerves—it’s a violent book where gruesome things can and do happen, and that tension will keep you page-turning as surely as Flaviano and Muerto’s lavish art. We encounter a long list of mysteries in issue #2, but we also start to get some answers, and that makes for good pacing and a road readers are going to want to travel despite the risks.
Geek aside: does anyone remember that mini-series The Lost Room? Something about Low Road West reminds me of it. Check both out for a similar feeling of mystery with a smattering of dread.
Low Road West #2 lands in comic shops from Boom! Studios, today on Wednesday, October 17th, 2018!