There are a lot of comics out there, but some stand out head and shoulders above the pack. With “Don’t Miss This,” we want to spotlight those series we think need to be on your pull list. This week, we’re spotlighting “Phantom Road” by Jeff Lemire, Gabriel H. Walta, and Jordie Bellaire.
Who’s this by?
This is another book by Jeff Lemire, who at this point doesn’t need an introduction. But to hell with it, we’ll roll out the carpet of books this guy has worked on, which include “Essex County”, “Sweet Tooth”, “The Underwater Welder”, “Animal Man”, “Green Arrow”, “Descender”, “Black Hammer”, “Gideon Falls”, and more. Lemire, perhaps as a result of his bucolic upbringing in Ontario, Candada, is most at home when his stories are suffused with rural brooding and contemplative, quiet yet kinetic landscapes. “Phantom Road”, as we’ll see later, is right up that alley, er, highway. Gabriel H. Walta is a Spanish comic artist known for his detailed and expressive artwork. He has worked with various publishers, primarily Marvel Comics, and has garnered critical acclaim for “The Vision,” which he collaborated with Tom King on. You may also recognize his work on “Magneto” (2014, Cullen Bunn) and “Doctor Strange: The Damnation” (2018, Donny Cates). Jordie Bellire, the colorist, also worked on “Vision,” as well as “Pretty Deadly” and “Injection.”
So, what’s this all about?
Do you remember, when younger, being driven by your parents on a long trip, maybe to a grandparent, or to the airport? The kind of trip that felt impossibly long, as if no place could be so far from home? What do you remember from that trip? Maybe you recall counting streetlights as you passed, the hypnotic rise and fall of the road that lulled you to sleep, or the brightly lit, dingy gas stations and truck stops and waystations that smelled like fast food and turpentine. Maybe when you were older, you embarked on a road trip like this yourself, and the awe of a child’s distance from home was replaced by the eagerness for discovery, or a fun weekend with friends. Maybe you drive for work yourself, and all this sounds like an incredibly whitewashed, oversimplified version of the joys of long drives. “Phantom Road” is about all that, plus more. The story is a sci-fi, horror, mash-up described as “Mad Max: Fury Road meets ‘The Sandman,’” which definitely checks out. “Phantom Road” combines the linear, high-speed energy of the former with the cosmically complex, eerie, vibe and aesthetic of the later. The story follows Dom, a weathered long-haul trucker with a stagnant home life, and Birdie, a young woman he meets on the road after they’re involved in a traffic accident. During the incident, Dom and Birdie become connected by…an alien force? A religious relic? It’s unclear, but what they do know is that the mysterious object has astonishing powers. What follows is a hectic, horror road trip story involving government secrets, interdimensional zombies, and a whole lotta other freaky freaky stuff.
So, why should I read this?
You should read this because it’s evocative, dark, well plotted, and just incredibly odd. “Phantom Road” has that vintage Lemire style, full of heavy silences and haunting rural environments. From a writing perspective, this kind of story is his paradise. Walta’s art brings the whole thing to light (or, in this case, looming darkness). The atmosphere in “Phantom Road” feels desolate, but not lonely. Dom and Birdie have great chemistry as characters, and we get the sense that this story has legs and/or wheels for the long haul, that is if the damn characters survive for long enough. In terms of plot, Phantom Road builds at a healthy pace. The first issue is pretty spare, but things slowly build and build over future issues until all the craziness feels both reasonable yet inevitable and terrifying. Mysteries and answers get dispensed at a healthy rate, which does a lot to keep the audience invested. Really, you should read “Phantom Road” if a character driven, horror/sci-fi mashup in a classic Lemire setting gets you excited.
How can I read this?
“Phantom Road” #4 can be found anywhere comics are found on June 7, 2023.