Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Clayton Crain
Travis Parham is an officer in the Confederate Army. Heís wounded in battle and rescued by Caleb, a freed slave. Travis stays with Caleb through the end of the war. During that time, he finds an old slave graveyard decorated with skulls. Travis suddenly sees a vision of hell: souls whipped by a gaunt figure with a burning skull for a head. Caleb says itís an old god of vengeance, something that chooses people to do its work on Earth. Travis prepares to leave and settle out west, but a time for revenge may be coming soon.
Ennis does for Ghost Rider what Alan Moore did for Swamp Thing. The Ghost Rider is portrayed as an avatar of vengeance serving a demon. I remember writers of the 1990ís Ghost Rider comic tried the same thing, connecting the three different Riders, the Western Ghost Rider (also called the Phantom Rider), and the minor Golden Age hero Blazing Skull. But they all had different sources of their supernatural powers. The connection between the two modern Ghost Riders was revealed to be more familial than spiritual. Still, it would take much to retcon them all as drawing their powers and purpose from the same demonic entity.
Ennis shows why heís a great writer with this comic. The dialogue is passionate and natural. We can see and hear Travis change over the years. Neither is a stock stereotype of a racist Southerner nor a good-hearted slave. Travis has been changed by the war, growing more introspective as he loses his idealism. Caleb is cynical but very moral. Calebís dialogue tends to sound too prescient when talking about what Travis will see when he goes out west. But he does say one of the most powerful lines Iíve read in a comic: ďI was a slave for three years of my life. A man owned me. I know a thing or two Ďbout what folks gonna do to turn a profit.Ē That sums up a point of view Iíve really seen in a character. It could be the basis for a story about slavery in America written from the slavesí point of view.
Crain painted this issue beautifully. So well, the lettering looks like crap. Seriously, the bright white balloons and simple block letters donít match the period costumes, dialect, or the grandiose events. When Iím looking at a Civil War battle and a vision of Hell, I want to see words in Gothic script; something old-fashioned and imposing, maybe with sepia-colored balloons. Crainís art has a wonderful organic quality that looks and feels like it was drawn from real life. To create visually the textures and weight of the real world is a rare skill in artists from any field.
Iíd say Trail of Tears succeeds on every level. Itís a solid story with compelling characters, incredible art, and most importantly, I want to read the next issue.
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