In Review: Backways #1

You'll be looking over your shoulder and watching each step once you enter Backways.

The covers: Four different frontpieces for this premiere issue that you won’t need magical assistance in hunting down. The A cover is by Eleonora Carlini and Silvia Tidei. This appears to be set on the top of a building littered with papers and doors. In the foreground, on her knees, is Coyote Bones with her tongue sticking out defiantly. Standing next to her is the protagonist Anna Merrick who defiantly stares at the reader with resolve. To their right is Skin Horse, whose age is made disgusting by his extended lower jaw and wispy strands of hair. Behind them is a tall, wise man with his arms folded. His white beard matches his jacket lining. Behind him is a character briefly glimpsed in this issue: a man who is the master of crows. This short fellow looks in the same direction as the previous man. His coat is ratty compared to the taller man, which may be due to his use of the black birds, a trio of which fly above the characters’ heads. This is a good introduction to the main players of the issue. The B cover is by Ben Templesmith and it’s a freakish image of a robed character screaming at the reader. It’s face is a melted mess of white, which matches the coloring of its long arms and taloned hands. This creature has white spikes protruding from its back and its rib cage is showing, containing a small creature wearing goggles. A supernatural smile is superimposed over the main character’s lower jaw and an orange spell is writhing above its head. This is a trippy cover and the one I had to purchase. There are two variant covers available from The Comic Mint. The first is by Mike Rooth and features the Skin Horse in the foreground holding a crystal ball before the reader. Within the glowing white orb is Anna, trapped in a room. To the right of the Skin Horse is Coyote Bones and to the left is a female with black hair, large pentagram earrings, and rose tattoos down her arm: the very important Sylvia. I love this! The final variant is a purple magic sigil. It’s on a black field and looks intriguing. Overall grades: A A, B A+, Rooth Variant A+, and Sigil Variant B+

The story: Goth girl Sylvia goes to her bedroom mirror and asks if Anna is there. She puts her hand to the glass. “Can you hear me?” A ghostly blonde girl appears and smiles. Sylvia smiles as she says, “I can see you.” Long nailed hands come out of the glass and grab her hand. She’s pulled in the mirror screaming as a disembodied voice says “We see you.” There’s no evidence that Sylvia was ever in her room. In the present, Anna Merrick enters Sylvia’s room to find the missing teen’s mother going through the girl’s letters. Anna says she can help find Sylvia, but her mother disagrees. She tells the intruding girl to leave or she’ll call the police. Anna leaves, but not before looking intently at the mirror. Justin Jordan’s tale disarmingly starts simply and reveals its enormity as it progresses. A reference is made to Alice in Wonderland and that sums up this opening issue as the young protagonist enters a world she was unprepared to enter to find her friend. Her first encounter with strangeness is on Page 8 with a street person who is much more than he seems. A warning is given and naturally — thankfully — ignored. An antagonist is introduced in Coyote Bones who uses something other than magic to make her way through the story. Her reactions to her devices are fun. Skin Horse turns out to be a more formidable foe with some creepy abilities to match his creepy look. The final two pages introduce and explain the Backways and blast open the possibilities for this series. This issue sets the premise but ends with a vaster backdrop for Anna to help her in her quest. I want to see more. Overall grade: A

The art: Eleonora Carlini is the book’s artist and her work is outstanding. I was pleased with her work in the first panel on the opening page that shows the apartment buildings where Sylvia and her mother reside: the buildings look great and the cars parked on the street strong. When Sylvia appears she’s got the classic cute Goth girl look, with long hair, pentagram earrings, a pierced lip, tank top, and an arm covered in tattoos. This character’s design, and the others that follow, looks as though it would fit in any Manga well. Magic in this book is teased well, with Sylvia’s abduction through the mirror excellently done; and I do have a fondness for speed lines in comics and Carlini’s style on this book is a perfect forum for them. Carlini’s layout is also good; note when the mom and Anna meet for the first time the panel is slightly askew to match their hostile attitudes. Pages 6 and 7 again display some excellent settings, which are well detailed. The creatures that swarm the heroine on 8 look great and I hope that this page is only a tease of more to come from them. Coyote Bones is an outstandingly designed character that is full of tiny details to catch the eye. Her smiles and scowls are beautiful. Pages 13 – 15 have no text until the final panel on 15, which leaves Carlini to tell Anna’s journey. Her trek is easy to follow and I like how three panels contained more than one image of Anna to show the reader how she moved through the panel. Skin Horse is a delightful sick looking character whose jutting lower jaw makes him a horror. The visual for what he does to Anna is initially funny, but quickly becomes a nightmare brought to life. The final two pages that reveal the Backways show the variety of creatures that Anna will meet leaves me sky high in imagining what Carlini will next bring to life. I really enjoyed the art. Overall grade: A+

The colors: Colors are often used to enhance magical aspects of a book and Silvia Tidei does so with her contributions to this book. The streetlights of the first panel create a recognizable reality for the reader to identify with and then Tidei moves slowly into the fantasy world with Sylvia’s violet covered hair and eyes. When she’s grasped by the wizened hand from the mirror a light blue is used which quickly overtakes Sylvia and the page. The real world’s colors return when the story shifts to the present, but Sylvia’s room has violet colored walls to remind the reader of who used to reside in that space. Coyote Bones is beautiful in white (bone) and violet (a magical color). The coloring provides a draw to the reader as strongly as the design of the character. Violet returns when Anna creates a magical sigil (previewed on the second Comic Mint cover). Skin Horse’s scenes are against yellow and gold backgrounds, connoting age and power. The rose colors used for this character’s magical abilities make their use frightening. As with the story and art, I’m looking forward to seeing what Tidei will bring to future issues. Overall grade: A

The letters: Scene settings, dialogue, yells, sounds, and Skin Horse’s unique dialogue are created by Marshall Dillon. The scene settings are a neat font, block letters that appear surrounded by magic, reinforcing this book’s genre and screaming attention from the reader. The sounds look as though they’ve been scrawled by a razor, making each, rightfully, painful to the reader’s ear. Skin Horse’s dialogue font is slightly different from the other characters, given some points to make his speech visually inhuman. Overall grade: A

The final line: The roads less traveled are the paths that must be followed in this magical creeper of a series. A great premise explodes into a world of possibilities for Anna Merrick to find her friend Sylvia. The visuals are great, capturing the beauty and horrors of magic wonderfully. You’ll be looking over your shoulder and watching each step once you enter Backways. Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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