LOW ROAD WEST #1 / Writer: Phillip Kennedy Johnson / Artist: Flaviano / Letterer : Jim Campbell / Inker: Andy Griffith / Colorist: Miquel Muerto / Publisher: BOOM! Studios / Sep 12, 2018
Road trip! Where are we headed? San Francisco! How are we getting there? Dilapidated schoolbus! What are we leaving behind? The bombed remains of Washington, D.C.! Whoa, chin up, you’re not traveling solo. Emma and her younger brother Ben are along for the ride, too. She’s a bit protective of him, and he likes to get lost in his thoughts and his videogame. There’s also the cheerful Angela, aloof Amir, and confident Shawn. Did you know his dad’s in the Special Forces? Well, you’re going to hear about it.
Low Road West uses its first issue to introduce a number of settings that paint a dire picture of the United States. First, the cast are bored out of their skulls riding across the Midwest as part of a refugee relocation program, which has the stated goal of pairing them with case workers and grief counselors. Radio announcements also encourage them to be vigilant against the “Tommy Tango” menace, which is vague but plants suspicions in Shawn’s head about who can be trusted. Everyone in the cast has a unique design that stands out from the rest thanks to artist Flaviano. From Amir’s spectacles to Emma’s bushy hair to Shawn’s bomber jacket, they each draw the eye with different features.
When the bus breaks down and the driver ditches the young refugees, the setting shifts to the open road along and through a Midwestern desert. Flaviano’s art captures the doom and gloom of the desert and its inhabitants against the backdrop of a bright horizon being overtaken by an approaching dust storm. A gang of creepers appears to attack and rob the group, but they are able to escape into a dark, mysterious house (more like a mansion from the inside). Miquel Muerto’s colors mark the changes in scenery with excellent palette signals. From the windows, the group still sees the pale orange wasteland outside, but within the mansion are shadows and dark blues illuminated by glowing flashlight beams. Sound effects are similarly effective, colored in red during moments of violence.
I don’t want to spoil the whole story, but suffice to say there are a couple of creepy moments mixed into all this that beg further investigation. Phillip Kennedy Johnson has laid out a wide stage with plenty of room for expansion – I’m reminded of comics like The Woods or Paper Girls, how their tweens and teens would snip at each other shortly before banding together against supernatural perils. There’s also a quiet, mournful quality to several scenes, like something out of Sweet Tooth. It’s hard not to think of the ways, both stated and implied, that these kids have had to grow up quick with little to no support. Maybe they can learn to lean on each other. As Amir puts it:
“Most of us saw our families die. Nobody is looking for us. But at least we’re not alone.”
He also sums up the mystery/horror elements of the issue:
“I don’t pretend to understand this place. It’s obviously been pretty… unpredictable.”
The cover to Low Road West #1 indicates that it is a five-part miniseries, and I cannot wait to roll with these kids across a fantastical American nightmare.
Verdict: 4 out of 5.