I was drawn to Shadow Roads some time ago. It is one of the first issue comics I picked up on Free Comic Book Day, down in Olympia WA at The Danger Room, a small, but awesome comic book shop on 4th Ave.
I was interested in Shadow roads when I first opened it because it dove into the appropriation and strange obsession many Americans of Western European descent have with Native American heritage. My first thoughts, on seeing the first few panels, were, oh-no. Not that. Why? Well, because the first few panels open on an “Indian exhibit” in London at the British Museum of Natural History. Two men, one white and the other Native American stand in front of a portion of the exhibit as an Englishman donning a ceremonial feathered Native American headdress, and insisting they call him “Chief James,” tells them all about “. . .the noble savage.” This piece takes place in the era of western expansion in what is now the United States.
Character: Barry and Henry are both Cambridge men. Whether they are students or faculty, I am unsure. Henry is a Native American man who has been raised in England. He does not know is heritage, and that’s why he attends this horrible Native American exhibit at the British Museum. Barry seems to be “the fool” as he is an oblivious white man, by standards of today, who says harmful and demeaning things to his friend without understanding them to be hurtful. Two other characters are introduced, though their thread seems to be, in issue 1, unconnected. Chesapeake Smith rides into a broken western town looking for something, or someone. His companion who rides beside him tells him he’s a fool before evaporating into mist. A ghost. Chesapeake’s alias is “Ghost Eyes.” Chesapeake finds Isabella O’Dooley, a young girl and quick draw with the pistols. A gunslinger if ever there was one. Chesapeake recruits her to hunt. . .someone or something.
Plot: While at the British Museum, Henry is approached by a Native American woman and given a ceremonial knife made of bone. She also tells Henry to, “go home.” When he and Barry are on the train back to Cambridge the bone knife begins to glow and as the train enters a tunnel they are plunged into darkness. A scream lures them from their compartment. When they see some kind of monster it is quickly followed by a gunshot. A woman appears behind them and tells them they are at a Crossroads and that following her will lead them out of it. She is accompanied by a large and silent black man. When they come out of the Crossroads they find themselves in the American West.
Art: The art is a little cartoonish. It doesn’t have impressionistic flair, rather hard lines and mostly simple features for most characters. However, it does have charm. Chesapeake Smith, especially, is rendered in details that make him look weathered and carved out of wood. The tone colors are really nice as well, as many of the pages that take place in the west are warm, but give a rusted, dusty feel to them, while those pages that take place in England are colder and cleaner, using no such coloring filter.
Conclusion: While I was drawn as well as skeptical about this comic at first glance, one thing I really appreciate about it is the representation. I’m not sure if Chesapeake Smith is black or Native American, but he is certainly not white. Henry’s commentary on the appropriation of Native American heritage, ceremony, etc, is an important story to tell, and couples with the interesting premise and setting that seems so rarely explored in fantasy, I’m excited to see where this piece goes.