Phantom Road #1
Dom is a long-haul truck driver attempting to stay ahead of his tragic past. When he stops one night to assist Birdie, who has been in a massive car crash, they pull an artifact from the wreckage that throws their lives into fifth gear. Suddenly, a typical midnight run has become a frantic journey through a surreal world where Dom and Birdie find themselves the quarry of strange and impossible monsters.
Phantom Road #1 – written by Jeff Lemire with art from Gabriel H. Walta, colors by Jordie Bellaire, and letters and design work from Steve Wands – follows Dom, a long haul trucker estranged from his family, as he finds himself trapped in a new, barren world filled with ghoulish monsters. The first issue can be split into two sections, Dom’s ordinary world of trucking which is filled with long lonely nights and brief but odd moments of connections in rest stops and diners.
The second half occurs when Dom comes across a nasty car wreck and a woman in shock, with a strange artifact embedded in the road. Dom makes contact with it, and the duo is transported somewhere else, a barren void of a desert filled with nothing by mummified-looking bodies that litter the space. Dom is attacked by one of these creatures and is forced to beat it to death(?) before a time shift occurs. Dom and the woman are left wondering about their next steps, surrounded by a pile of creature corpses and a stained crowbar.
Lemiere’s script is heavy on mood and set up in the best possible way, utilizing repetition and a formalist structure to play on the monotony of truck driving. The long stretches of silence, with only the briefest of interjections from the radio, are familiar to anyone who’s spent nights with nothing but empty stretches of highway and found themselves drifting. Lemire’s scripting is sparse, showing a massive amount of restraint in letting the art speak for itself in those panels. There are no running narrative or caption boxes, which only heightens the sinking silence of the road.
That choice to forgo a running voice comes into play when Lemire shifts in time, which also works as a method to build tension and flesh out Dom’s character with a deft hand. As Dom stares into his reflection in the windshield, studying himself by the nature of his profession, the image shifts to that of his son. Lemire then takes the audience back to the start of Dom’s run, plopping them into an argument between the trucker and his wife. Underneath the dining room table, the young son hides with his collection of car toys, the scene playing out with almost no peek at the parent’s faces.
Wands’s lettering gets the chance to shine at this moment, working with Lemire’s dialogue to convey emotion while the subjects of the panels are toy cars and feet. The flashback begins to inform Dom’s instances of solitude. It also colors the fleeting moments of interaction in the issue, playing on the duality of these long-haul truckers. In the scene with Dom and the waitress, it’s like a switch has been flipped, and Dom is rather charming, sharing a sense of comradery with the woman that is lacking back home.
Walta’s art is a perfect match for the sparse storytelling and tone that Lemire has set out to tell. The art style plays with the ragged, melancholy world of truckers, and knows how to illustrate the repetitive nature of career and lifestyle. The recurring use of Dom’s reflections in his big rig’s front windshield is an excellent symbol of the loneliness and introspective nature of these runs. Even as the reflection lacks some detail in Dom’s actual face, it becomes an excellent motif that informs the later half of the book, once Dom and the woman find themselves in the new location.
When Dom encounters the creatures, the things have a humanoid shape but are lacking in sharp detail, something that Walta plays up. Rather than appear as people, these creatures bear a passing resemblance to the remains of people encased in lava from Pompei. Like afterimages preserved in limited detail. As Dom comes face to face with one of these creatures, Walta employs a wide panel with two smaller ones, utilizing a flow of wide, close-up, reactions to contrast Dom and the creature. The first close-up is of the creature, with its sunken, smoothed-down features. It then shifts to Dom, with his scratchy beard and shocked expression. Even as the creature attacks, its anatomy feels off (in an interesting way), conveying the otherworldly threat these creatures exude.
The sense of contrast in the issue is just as evident in Bellaire’s coloring, working with the art to reinforce both the mundanity and sparseness of both worlds. In the world of the truckers, color is muted by the long stretches of black, the only real pops coming from the singing man’s Hawaiian shirt or the reds of the wrecked car’s tail lights. The artifact found at that wreckage site serves almost like an axis for the book’s color palette, releasing a bright, acidic green burst of energy that transports Dom and the woman into a new world and palette. Gone are the bright flashes of coloring illuminating dark stretches of road. Now, Belaire provides a muted, sepia tone for this new world. It’s almost as if a layer of dry dirt and dust has settled on the pages, and gives a sense of the ethereal to this desert locale.
Phantom Road #1 is a lonely, haunting read that cuts through its genre conventions to tell the beginning filled with emotional complexity and flashes of ruthless action. From its cold open utilizing an almost comic strip format to the long stretches of darkened highways and then endless expanses of desert, the writing, art, and colors all speak to a stripped-down but enthralling tale of lost souls. Fans of quieter stories with plenty of introspection and monstrosities will love this issue, which plays into the strengths of Lemire, Walta, Bellaire, and Wands.
Phantom Road #1: On a Long and Lonesome Highway
- Writing - 10/1010/10
- Storyline - 10/1010/10
- Art - 10/1010/10
- Color - 10/1010/10
- Cover Art - 9/109/10
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