Writer: Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurt
Artist: A. C. Zamudio
Colourist: Carlos N. Zamudio
Lettered by: Crank!
Publisher: Oni Press
From writers Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurt (The Damned, Sixth Gun) comes a tale of the supernatural set in the Old West. We are introduced to Henry Grey, Cambridge academic, who is struggling with his Native American heritage, whilst also struggling with his ignorant colleague Barry. Whilst touring a museum exhibit, he receives a ceremonial dagger from an unknown benefactor. Upon boarding a seemingly ordinary train, Henry and Barry are plunged into darkness and attacked by unknown creatures. As ethereal magic seems to spill out of Henry’s dagger, the pair are rescued by the mysterious Abigail Redmayne and her companion Kalfu. Meanwhile, in New Mexico, Chesapeake ‘Ghost Eyes’ Smith, is hoping to recruit expert gunslinger Isabella O’Dooley in order to hunt a monster…
This is an interesting start to this series, setting the tone and comfortably embracing the supernatural almost immediately. Henry Grey is a reasonably engaging protagonist, and through his interaction with the Native American exhibit at the museum, it is clear he has been on the receiving end of substantial amounts of racism, despite his position at Cambridge. Even his colleague Barry is oblivious to this, and manages to drop the occasional cringe-worthy comment into a conversation. This is uncomfortably on point for the time period, and it immediately helps in endearing Henry to us. Henry also receives a ceremonial knife from a stranger, and after confirming it is legitimate, is unsure as to why. It also comes with the timely message of ‘go home’. It is clear Henry hopes to re-engage with his heritage, but before he has time to process the experience, the two academics find themselves under attack on a pitch-black train. Grisly monstrous ‘dogs’ suddenly prowl the carriages, and Henry has to defend himself with the now-glowing knife. The pair are rescued by Abigail Redmayne, wielding an enormous gun, and her companion Kalfu. For now, she is a mystery, but seems to be knowledgeable about what is happening. The train enters the ‘Crossroads’ and suddenly, the group are in the desert, surrounded by corpses of monsters; or, as Abigail puts it, Henry is ‘home’.
We are also introduced to Chesapeake (a.k.a Chester) Smith, a man who can see and speak to ghosts. Again, the casual introduction of the supernatural here is welcome, and his acceptance of his condition is refreshing. Dismissing his spectral travelling companion, Chester reaches a remote town in order to find a notorious gunslinger by the name of Isabella. Hoping to recruit her to hunt down a monster that she seems acquainted with, Chester promises her revenge. This introduction is brief, but it is clear that Isabella is not to be trifled with, having both survived an encounter with this unknown creature, and is also a crack shot with a pistol. These two groups of characters seem destined to meet in the future, and it will be interesting to see how they react to one another.
This story by Cullen & Hurtt rockets through at a blistering pace, and as such we only get little snippets of how the characters think and speak. However, this will undoubtedly get expanded on in further issues, and hopefully the fast-paced story will not overtake them. There is also a nice amount of lore-building here, and sets up an intriguing universe for the story to take place in. The dialogue is crisp, serves the story well, and never feels too wordy or excessive.
Carlos N. Zamudio on colouring duty uses a variety of colour pallets, such as the warm oranges of the desert, mixed with the ominous purples and blacks of the train scene, all of which manage to set the scene well. Splashes of ghostly whites and greens also set the supernatural tone nicely. The art by A. C. Zamudio is good, although panels vary in amount of detail used, and there seems to a caricature-like approach to drawing Barry when he consistently fails to say the right thing. This is an interesting choice, and for me personally does not always seem to fit; however, characters are drawn with unique looks, expressions and stances and when coupled with the neat lettering/dialogue, the majority of panels work. The creature design is also sufficiently ominous, and hopefully we will see more of that later in the story. The cover for this issue is also by the Zamudios, and gives us the imposing figure of Abigail hiding in shadow, whilst Henry and Barry are wielding the magic knife. The bold red and yellow cover logo is impressive, and definitely makes this story stand out.
A fast and spirited (pun intended) introduction to this universe, Shadow Roads #1 gives us a cast of interesting characters and a nice smattering of supernatural lore. Although the speed of the story only gives us a little bit of time with some of the cast, further issues will undoubtably expand on this.
Shadow Roads #1 is out now.