New To You Comics: Kyle Starks’ Homeric Hobo Odyssey Concludes In ‘Rock Candy Mountain’ Vol. 2

by Brendan M. Allen

Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.

New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Not always. Sometimes. Okay. Twice. It happened twice.

This week, Brendan is introducing Tony to the second volume of Image Comics’ Rock Candy Mountain, by Kyle Starks, with color by Chris Schweizer. Here’s what Image says about the book:

‘Jackson’s mysterious history finally unravels. A massive battle atop a moving train. The Hobo Mafia and the feds close in for an actual war and Jackson’s final battle with The Literal Devil. Pomona Slim, Hundred Cat, and Big Sis are all mixed up in the epic conclusion of the World’s Toughest Hobo’s search for the mythical Rock Candy Mountain.’

Brendan Allen: We did Rock Candy Mountain Volume 1 a while back, and one of the things that’s kind of a bummer about that first volume is that it just kind of STOPS. Kyle Starks has said that it was meant to be consumed as one whole piece, and that it really should have been released as the complete story. I completely agree. 

Tony Thornley: Yeah, to be blunt, collecting this is two chunks was a bad idea. I didn’t re-read the first volume, because it was recent enough for me to remember the story. This is clearly a singular story, not two intertwined arcs. I think you and I talked about Captain America: The Winter Soldier V1 immediately before we talked about this one, and they’re the right comparison to make- Winter Soldier V1 is a set-up arc for V2, which is where all the good stuff happens. Rock Candy Mountain is one story that they broke into two collections.

That’s a long way of saying, I don’t get the format, but that’s not Starks’ fault at all. 

Brendan: That bit of housekeeping aside, the first book introduced us to a mysterious hobo named Jackson who couldn’t lose a fair fight. Jackson spent most of that book collecting artifacts and allies for a mysterious score. All the while, Jackson was running from the FBI, the hobo mafia, and the actual, ever-loving Devil himself.

Rock Candy Mountain Volume 2 goes back to before Jackson’s hobo lifestyle, circa WWII. He has a wife and a baby daughter. We get to see a side of the man that isn’t present at all in the first storyline. He’s actually a pretty sensitive dude. Then he pulls a draft slip and has to get creative to find a way to make it home to his girls in one piece. Enter Lucifer. 

Tony: Getting that flashback issue at the beginning of this volume was great. Starks said in the backmatter that his family had taken a chance on him becoming a full-time comics creator two years before the book came out. You can feel the emotion that went into the story from that issue, and suddenly Jackson as a person clicks.

From that point on, the story is all about Jackson reuniting with his family, and you feel that desperation, and his love for his family in every story beat. It’s not just Jackson that gets more character growth in this arc. Slim comes out as queer, and there’s a real resonance in that. Considering it’s set in the 50’s, having a queer character not only come out but be told “Okay, you’re gay. So what? That doesn’t mean you’re not a good person,” really is a strong beat.

Brendan: That’s a great point. That line is delivered from Beelzebub himself, too. He’s perfectly willing to make a deal for Slim’s soul, because that’s the only way he’ll get him.

Tony: Yeah, Starks really hit that plot point perfectly, even if it was in his silly style.

Brendan: You wanted your big choreographed fight scenes. Here they are. One massive brawl on top of a moving train, and then the big blowoff in the Gehenna Rail Yard (I see what you did there, Starks). Oh, and that hallway brawl leading up to the face-off with Hitler? No ‘punch-punch-drop’ here. These sequences flow ridiculously well, and there isn’t a wasted punch or feint.

Tony: Yeah, he goes all out on that side of things. I think his cartooning style really lends itself well to the action. It’s extremely exaggerated and heightened, but I think if it were realistic it would be too far over the top. Here it’s shocking but kinda funny too.

I love what Starks does with Jackson through the fights though. In the WWII scenes, he’s grimly determined. In the brawl, he’s desperate. He kind of felt like a different character in this back half of the story.

Brendan: His motivation changed. Initially, he was fighting to get home, trusting in the deal he made with Apollyon. When he realized that wasn’t going to happen, he had to switch up the plan. He went from hope, to anger, to desperation, back to hope, long shot as the resolution may be. 

Tony: Yeah, and you get that from the writing and the art. Starks really just nails it. And we can’t forget Chris Schweizer’s colors. He does SUCH a good job both setting the scene and setting the mood.

Brendan: You gushed on the colors in the last piece. Very O Brother, Where Art Thou. That dusty sepia wash works very well for the period. 

Tony: It does. It’s another thing that also prevents the violence from going over the top.

Brendan: If you couldn’t tell from the first piece we did, this is one of my all-time favorite stories. Starks laces his dark wit with all kinds of crazy period slang and creative onomatopoeia. I think ‘FUCKT’ is right up there with the best comic book SFX of all time.

This is also the first book in a long time that made me have all the feels. I’m not saying I cried, but my living room suddenly got awfully dusty and windy.

Tony: Definitely, especially with those last two pages. My goodness. The denouement of the entire story is so great, and puts a smile on your face… then the last two pages hit.

Brendan: The resolution is just so perfect, for all the characters you’re rooting for.

Tony: Oh yeah, and it lets the characters (except Jackson) go on adventuring. If Starks ever wanted to do a sequel with Slim, Big Sis, and Hundred Cat out treasure hunting, I’d be on board, but it doesn’t need it.

Brendan: I hadn’t even thought of that, but you’re right. I’d absolutely get on board with sequel spinoffs. 

Tony: Hint hint Kyle, if you’re reading this. 

I’m glad we covered this one. Let’s do more volume 2’s in our year 2 of the column!

Brendan: I agree. This is one that really stuck in my craw because of how good it gets in the second half, and how awkward that break is, but there are a bunch of other second arcs that really beg to be looked at.

What’s up next?

Tony: I know we haven’t done a lot of DC stuff (call us DC!) so we’re headed back into the DCU with one of my favorite OGN’s ever- JLA: Earth 2. It’s been years since I’ve read it though, so we’ll see how it holds up!

We talked about the weird break between the first half and the second half, and I’m going to go one further here. The floppies include backmatter that isn’t included in the collections that are full of receipts for the historical context of the story. If you want the absolute best experience, in my opinion, track down and grab all the individual physical floppies. I personally prefer holding physical books when possible.

If you want the physical hardcover Vols. 1&2, you can get them straight from the man himself for a $20 bundle right here

Digitally, Vol. 1 retails for $8, and Vol. 2 is $12. The individual chapters are available digitally for $2 each. Times eight, that’s four bucks cheaper than the digital collections, with all those really cool essays in the back, but still not a physical book. 

Brendan M. Allen

Brendan Allen has probably had more jobs than you would reasonably believe. Dog trainer? He’s done it. Flooring contractor? You bet! EMT? Army NBC specialist? Road dog for a Celtic rock band? Yes, yes, and och aye! Now he reads comics and writes about them. It's a rough gig. You can follow Brendan on Twitter @SaintAmish where he tweets about comic books and cystic fibrosis awareness.

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