Writer: Simon Spurrier
Artist: Nathan C. Gooden
Colorist: Addison Duke
Letterer: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Designer: Tim Daniel
Publisher: Vault Comics
WHAT IS IT?
A blood-soaked historical horror with heavy Western tropes.
Think There Will Be Blood meets The Thing meets Blood Meridian.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
At the end of the gold rush, Nettie Bridger's son Caleb and his father have gone prospecting for gold in the frozen wastes of the Yukon Territory. When Nettie discovers that Caleb has been abandoned, she resolves to find him with her hired protector Makepeace Thyme. Unbeknownst to them, a creature – half man, half spider – is stalking the valley. In order to save her son, she must face down all the different faces of evil.
Simon Spurrier crafts a world that is both intriguing and terrifying, where we can almost smell the desperation in all the characters as they chase the last hopes of riches at the expense of everything else. That works in direct contrast to the central conceit of the story where a woman seeks to save her family instead.
The art is spectacular. Nathan Gooden uses bold, stark lines that contrast beautifully with the washed-out colours. Everyone has demonstrative, harsh faces that reflect how difficult their lives are. Everything has a motion to it, nothing feels static, from the background snowdrifts or the movement of illuminating flames.
Those colours, meanwhile, make everything look like the faded posters that one associates with the time period. Addison Duke's conscious use of a washed-out palette evokes those memories and plays on them when the harshness of the story comes in. You have never seen so many ruddy red noses, a simple detail that makes the cold feel tactile.
You always know you're in safe hands when you see that Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou is the letterer on a book. This is no different. Be it pages from a diary or the different inflections in tone, Otsmane-Elhaou pitches everything perfectly.
The story is well-balanced. It plays in the darkness of the period and doesn't shy away from it but grounds the narrative in a mother's love, which gives us something foundational to grasp on to and root for.
With a story based almost exclusively in small towns or the frozen expanse of the Yukon Territory, it would be easy to make the reader feel lost in the geography of the story, but everything is placed together carefully so it is easy to follow and never drab to the eye – snow has rarely looked so good.
It is a familiar genre trope to have the story revolve around hard men making hard decisions but constructing the story around a central female figure is smart. The fact that Nettie is a strong, capable protagonist who is fiercely intelligent is always welcome rather than the stale tropes you can sometimes see.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
While the central through-line with Nettie and Caleb is set up well, The Pale (what the spider monster is referred to as) only exists on the periphery outside of a small prologue. What it is and how it figures into the bigger story isn't yet established.
Nettie Bridger is a great protagonist, who is smart and independent, so when we're introduced to the loser father of their son, it seems like something wildly out of character for what we have seen of her to have ever been associated with him.
During the flashback scenes where we're given the backstory to Nettie and Caleb, the colours are even more washed-out, almost creating a hazy out-of-focus effect, which works intellectually but in practical terms, the eye drifts over the images a little too easily without taking it in.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
While the gold rush is an era well-trodden in fiction, this is a specific corner of it that feels particularly underused. The frozen north when the gold rush is pretty much over is not what automatically comes to mind when you think of this kind of period story. It lends the story a verisimilitude when you're talking about desperate people at what feels like the edge of the world, where monsters may lurk.
The monster, meanwhile, is well-designed. While it doesn't make much of an appearance in this first issue, it's definitely something that sticks with you. The fact that it is so well-dressed while everyone else feels like they're in rags and freezing is otherworldly.
Nettie is also a great protagonist. There are some elements of her story that perhaps need to be fleshed-out, but when you consider that this is a single issue, you get a real feel for her character and who she is. If you didn't feel that immediate attachment, then the story has zero stakes beyond a cool environment and monster, but you do, because Nettie is great.
This is a must-read for anyone who likes character-based horror or enjoy westerns that work outside the parameters of their typical confines. It's got immediately relatable characters, good action, and a great world to explore.
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