This week’s lead review for Wednesday Comics is Phantom Road #1, a masterful first issue from an all-star creative team. In addition, the Wednesday Comics Team has its usual rundown of the new #1s, finales and other notable issues from non-Big 2 publishers, all of which you can find below … enjoy!

Phantom RoadPhantom Road #1

Script: Jeff Lemire
Art: Gabriel Hernández Walta
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Lettering: Steve Wands
Publisher: Image Comics

Phantom Road feels like the type of comic that creeps up on you, that rewards an appreciation of buildup and quiet moments. Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Hernández Waltas new comic series certainly seems to have those two ideas at the forefront, led by an impressively nuanced art style that keeps things grounded and muted to let its characters’ emotions flourish in the face of a terrifying twist on reality.

The first entry of this new Image Comics series follows a truck driver with a sad past, one that explains why he’s taken the road as his workplace. One night, the driver, called Dom, stumbles upon a wreckage and finds an injured women, called Birdie, in a completely frightened state and speaking of things that don’t sound all that logical. That is until they get transported to another version of the same road their on. And then come the ghoul-like creatures.

At a glance, the story can come off as simple. In fact, the short summary above might be too generous in covering what happens in issue #1, but those who’ve read Lemire before know the meat of the story is in the characters and their emotional arcs. Phantom Road has this in spades. Lemire is a master of filling sentences with volumes of information so that the reader can pick up on should they dissect each line of dialogue. 

In the short time we’re with Dom and Birdie, we come to know them to a fair extent and can at least paint a picture that captures who they are and what they can be. Of course, Lemire also likes to complicate character motivations and personalities with strategic reveals that change the way we view them. Phantom Road #1 possesses characters that appear to be well on their way to give us just that.

On the other hand, fans of Walta’s work, especially in Vision (written by Tom King) and Sentient (a previous collaboration with Lemire for TKO Studios), will be glad to know his ability to imbue characters with a sense of melancholy and wonder (sometimes at the same time, sometimes in waves) is present here as well with the same degree of success. 

Walta’s art lends itself beautifully to Lemire script, which excels at not getting in the way of itself with densely wordy pages. The same kind of nuance present in Lemire’s dialogue and narration is carried into the art by Walta in a way that deepens the character work. It’s about what the characters say and reveal about themselves with as little explaining as possible, but with the guarantee that all the reader needs to dive further into them is there.

The icing on the cake is Jordie Bellaire’s subtle and textured coloring. The color palette on display points to an interest in making sure the story’s tone is sustained throughout, favoring different variations of grey and muted reds and blues to give things a softer touch. Once the horror aspects of the story become known, that softness clashes with the strange happenings affecting Dom and Birdie. Bellaire knows well how to make sure the stories she colors communicate the narrative’s intention with clarity. Phantom Road is no exception.

Lemire, Walta, and Bellaire have a difficult story to tell given how much hangs on the balance between the weird and the deeply personal. Looking at the first issue of the series, though, gives the impression that pulling this off was anything but difficult. What made it onto the pages of the first issue alone projects an understanding of the vision behind the new series, the kind that paints worlds and characters with confidence. If there’s a creative team you can trust to put together a comic worth following and anxiously waiting for at a monthly basis, it’s the one behind Phantom Road

Verdict: Buy

-Ricardo Serrano Denis

Wednesday Comics Reviews Quick Hits

  • All Night & Every Day (AfterShock Comics): No one likes being at parties. But we go anyway. Because we gotta know what happens at the party. This set of unwritten rules rule supreme over writer Ray Fawkes and artist Andrea Frittella’s ambitious surreal psychological horror one shot, All Night & Every Day. Our lead, Michaela, has spent the last two years searching for her missing fiance, and is being forced into some stream-of-consciousness party that gets worse the longer you’re there (physically, socially, emotionally). There she reunites with her long lost loved one, and they attempt their escape from the literal party and the metaphorical party (read: their relationship). What follows is only guided so seamlessly by Frittella’s rotoscoped fumetti touch, which blurs the edge between its photo comics definition and common colloquial use. Existing aesthetically in the uncanny valley, Frittella’s attention to detail obfuscates the lack of motion; bodies often suspended in space rather than breathing naturally. With all the detail, page focal points could suffer too if not for colorist Sara Colella’s naturalistic palette, which I felt was held back narratively aside from the finale (the firelit scene; the shadows don’t make sense, but the emotion is there), but even held back, her approach is noticeably affecting. Speaking of, letterer Matt Krotzer pulled a stock standard job here — the balloon thickness thinner than the font irks me– aside from that gut wrench-hungry finale that hides part of a balloon to a chef kiss effect on the climax. Now, throw up some “parties suck in this way, shape, and form” metaphors, tw for the sexual assault and swastikas, and understand this is the creative team’s opinion, but it doesn’t have to be yours, and you’ve got a psychological horror to remember all night and every day. –Beau Q.
  • Buffy The Last Vampire Slayer #1 (BOOM! Studio): In Buffy The Last Vampire Slayer Special #1, we pick up a bit after the most recent run ends. Thessaly is out vampire hunting with Spike, practicing and learning her destined trade as the new Slayer. But there’s something else she desperately wants to get to—her new crush, and first ever girlfriend, Iris. Special #1, written by Casey Gilly, does good work to balance teen feelings with the reality of having to navigate a destiny, which shows a deep understanding of the IP’s origins. With art by Joe Jaro, Maria Keane, and Lea Caballero, Thessaly’s magic jumps off the page—in both the action and the awkward moments. There are rumblings of a big demon in the desert, recently awoken, causing trouble, in America. So the team rush off to answer the call and, in doing so, force Thessaly and Iris apart, right when their relationship is starting to bloom. Whether we’re on the streets of London or in an RV on Route 66, the colors feel thoughtful and even throughout. Even when demons have cloaks made of stars, which is just fantastic. Buffy has always been a talky IP, but the flow of the lettering, done by Ed Dukeshire, feels natural and kinetic with the art. Like the issues that proceed it, Buffy The Last Vampire Slayer Special #1 is a thoughtful and really solid entry in the lineage of Buffy comics. –Michael Kurt
  • HUNT. KILL. REPEAT. #1 (Mad Cave Studios): Hunt. Kill. Repeat. #1 has an appeal reminiscent of Kill Bill but is elevated by the fantastical nature of Greek mythos, and this shows in the environmental design, the characters themselves, and how the creative team of writer Mark London, penciler Francesco Archidiacono, inker Marc Deering, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Rus Wooton craft a world under the fascistic rule of deities. This first issue is beautifully illustrated, beautifully colored, and well written with an inherent critique of fascism, though, in its foreshadowing, alludes to a certain franchise which gave pause, considering current events and rising fascism within our real world. The action here is dynamic as Artemis goes up against fascists herself, and there’s a sequence that was very impressive to read as the team showcases their masterful handle on the action that the series promises as it moves forward. –Khalid Johnson
  • I Hate This Place #6 (Image Comics): Image’s latest horror hit, I Hate This Place, returns in a brand-new story arc building off the cliffhanger ending of the previous issue. Readers will surely want to jump back in for this. The creative team of writer Kyle StarkArtyom Topilin on art, Lee Loughridge’s colors, and letters from Pat Brosseau return main characters Gabby and Trudy, facing them with new forms of chaos as the pair try their best at running the ranch from hell. Also, their past finally catches up with them. Page layout and lettering stand out in this issue to keep the horror mood alive despite this being a slower, reintroduction/return to this world. It also delivers a new form of scares differing drastically from those in the first arc. The newest monsters showing up on the homestead’s doorstep may look like the ghosts the women are used to, but they are far more dangerous. –Bryan Reheil
  • Red Zone #1 (AWA Studios): Red Zone #1, written by Cullen Bunn with art by Mike Deodato Jr., colors by Lee Loughridge, and letters by Steve Wands, is a rather by-the-numbers action-spy thriller that still manages to engage. This book isn’t out to reinvent the genre. An unassuming college professor is brought in by the government for a secret international mission. Things go haywire and it turns out the professor has some secrets of his own. The story is far from shocking at any point, but the writing is brisk and compelling enough. The real star of this issue is the art. Deodato’s page layouts are so visually striking and unique. The grid layouts have an almost oppressive quality to them, and the gritty feel of the illustrations matches the tone of the book perfectly. Readers who enjoy espionage tales will find a lot to enjoy here, and as first issues go it does a solid job setting up the world. –Alex Batts

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Wednesday Comics is edited by Zack Quaintance.