Comic Review: To Hell You Ride #1

To Hell You Ride #1
Written by Lance Henriksen and Joseph Maddrey
Art by Tom Mandrake
Colors by Cris Peter with Mat Lopes
Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot
Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: December 12, 2012
Cover Price: $3.99

To Hell You Ride (the title is a play on words inspired by the comic’s Telluride Colorado locale) combines the debut comic writing talent of actor Lance Henriksen (best known for his role as Bishop from Aliens and for acting in nearly every genre film in the last 40 years) and Joseph Maddrey (Nightmares in Red, White and Blue: The Evolution of the American Horror Film), with art by Tom Mandrake (The Spectre, oodles of Batman). Those names are certainly enough to sell comics on their own merits. However, it is their deft synthesis of Native American folk tales with horror and western genres that allows Dark Horse’s new series to read less like standard comic fare, and more like a well-paced film that stays with you long after the credits stop rolling.

With a byline like “White Man’s Guilt” and a plot that involves white settlers in the 1880s interrupting a tribal sacrifice ritual that unleashes a supernatural curse that affects the denizens of the Colorado mountain town up to the present day, one might assume this is a book about race. However, that’s hardly a fraction of the point. Without any specific agenda, this comic is already asking more questions than providing answers and thus providing space for an epic journey to unfold. With statements like “The world falls further out of balance with each new generation. The only thing that changes are out intensity of our indifference.” This could be a rather heavy handed comic without the advanced cinematic timing and character development skill of its authors. Existential questions about the environment and ignoring the messages of the land and the importance of ritual are expressed within the frame of a grand adventure, with lots of supernatural elements thrown in.

In To Hell You Ride #1, our anti-hero (so far) is a disenchanted young Native American man named “Two-Dogs” who is self-destructive and selling himself out in a job that represents what he least wants to become. He has a rather bleak future and only the kindly town sheriff and mentor figure Jim Shipps whose seems to understand and believe in him, whether he seems partially likable yet or not. He is given a series of inventive messages which he promptly ignores until he can no longer. It is revealed that Two-Dogs has a vital role to play in uncovering the mysterious circumstances surrounding the betrayal of his grandfather “Five George” and that his instincts that the dead-end town he resides is still feeling the long term consequences of a curse placed on the greedy gold miners who interrupted an important death ritual in the 1880’s is more than just a morbid premonition.

A foreboding atmosphere to go along with the dark narrative is expertly delivered by Mandrake who juxtaposes the dark deeds of man with the quiet majestic beauty of the mountain landscape and its wildlife. We see just what a curse “that melts flesh from bone” looks like and what happens when other cultures’ rituals and practices are not respected. There may not be anything cute about the colors, characters or the dilapidated and decidedly non-touristy part of Telluride they call home but Mandrakes’ humanism and range of facial expressions still manages to make people look endearing. All of these simpatico elements make one scene flow from one another with ease. Somehow they have managed to tell a story where the protagonist breathlessly goes through perhaps the first five stages of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero Journey” in 24 pages not only manageable but entertaining. If this first issue is any indication, this will be a sufficiently creepy horror series but what will set it apart is its beating heart at the core of all this relentless adventure.

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