The new title from IDW Publishing, Chained To The Grave, is a brave mix of genres. It throws horror into the Old West with lashings of humour. It is an action packed revenge story with a strong dose of family drama and, because that isn’t enough, there’s a mystery or two thrown in for good measure. Writers Andy Eschenbach and Brian Level invite the readers to take a walk through their weird world; a world visualised by Kate Sherron and Micah Myers.
With shelves full of superheroes fighting for realism, desperate to be taken seriously, Chained To The Grave throws off the shackles of the mainstream expectations and presents an unleashed comic book adventure.
Raising From the Grave
Eschenbach and Level’s tale starts with the resurrection of the protagonist, Roy Mason, and his confused journey home. Although the victim of a cruel shooting, Mason is not innocent and his own misdeeds have led him to the grave. The moment of death is presented by Eschenbach and Level through flashbacks like the wild flashes of lightning that accompanied Mason’s return to the living world. The remainder of Mason’s recent past is left for him to reveal to his children in a touching moment of family bonding. The writers allow the character to tell his own spin on events as a way to give the readers insights into the plot and also into Mason’s personality. He is fanciful and elaborate with a clear love for his family that comes across in the interactions that Eschenbach/Level portray in the script.
Sub plots spin out from the central premise as the readers are introduced to a number of characters. Some are clearly villains and some heroes but it wouldn’t be a western without a fair share of dubious figures whose intentions are suspect. The cliche of the genre is woven into the plot with humour and the narrative flow from page to page is brisk. This leaves the reader just enough time to question the links between the characters but not linger on the details.
At each beat of the story the writers twist your expectations, surprising you with a plot reveal or character trait. One thing that you can’t say about Chained To The Grave is that it’s predictable. From the opening page onwards you are never quite sure where the tale will take you but the journey is so wild that it doesn’t matter.
For people used to classic Sergio Leone westerns or the Marvel Old West characters like Rawhide Kid and Kid Colt, the most shocking part of Chained To The Grave will be the visuals. Kate Sherron isn’t shy about using color and the standard sandy yellows and tan browns of traditional western settings are eschewed for a more psychedelic color palette. Bright yellows and greens fill the day scenes while deep reds and lush purples reign at night. Sherron’s colors breathe fresh life into both the western and the horror elements which are at the heart of this comic. On some level it doesn’t feel fitting and yet Sherron makes it work.
Part of the charm are Sherron’s figures with their bulky bodies and thin extremities. There is no pretense of reality, instead a pure enjoyment of caricature which in turn allows the colors to shine. The artwork is about expression and creating a mood, which is successfully achieved throughout. The design work gives the reader a sense of character and the locations reflect genre tropes. The scene in the graveyard is enjoyably gothic, with Mason’s wife dressed in all her splendor as she patiently waits for her husband’s return. As the setting shifts to the villain of the piece, the interior of the tent is dressed in spiritual paraphernalia, producing a different magical vibe.
Sherron creates an impressive dynamism across the pages by bringing the images out of the panels to cross the gutters. Sweeping chains and lurking figures break the constraints of the layout, opening up the world and allowing the reader to become immersed in the scene. Micah Myers’ lettering is a big part of this. Through the use of different fonts for certain characters and a constant shift in size and boldness, Myers captures the essence of the speech and the personalities behind the words. The tone that the lettering brings to the page enhances the humour and enriches the narrative.
The full throttle plot and range of characters only work together because of the strength and commitment by the artist to her style. The visuals may take some getting used to, especially if you came looking for a Clint Eastwood western. Instead Chained To The Grave looks more like Image Comics Head Lopper or the work of Phil Hester for Aftershock’s Shipwreck. It’s brash and bold, and contains an exciting visual that challenges genre convention.
The plot is intriguing, although the supernatural element does overshadow much of the story and on occasion detracts away from the character building. On the whole the visual storytelling is strong enough to pull you through the pages, making you engrossed in the moment so that you don’t stop and think too hard about what is actually going on. If you want a pure genre story you’ll not find it here but that’s okay, Chained To The Grave is a comic to be experienced and enjoyed like a good B-Movie.