“White Ash” #1 is a young man’s last chance to get out of his dying coal-mining town – except the town and an interloper or two might have different plans for him. Warning, spoilers ahead!
Story: Charles Stickney
Art & Letters: Conor Hughes
Colors: Fin Cramb
Publisher: Scout Comics
“White Ash” #1 is one of those joyfully grim books in which we address both the day-to-day realities of our current political climate and some good ol’ monster horror. White Ash, Pennsylvania’s an industry town like so many across the United States – dependent on a destructive, profitable material and withering from the inside out, because none of those profits stay with the workers who generate them. This kind of industry’s our bread and butter, and all the bullshit and propaganda that go along with it are as toxic as the coal dust that coats the town. Aleck’s 19 and ready to get out of dodge, but not before he says goodbye to his father, collects his final paycheck … and witnesses a catastrophe that plunges all of his plans into chaos.
And the whole damn town, too.
Stickney hits the big plot notes needed to make this a successful first issue. Aleck’s monologue is effective as narration over the first few pages, and while the repetition of his intention is appropriate for a 19-year old, Hughes’s drawing style makes him appear older than he is and dilutes this intended teenage frustration a bit. There are a few anatomical oddities in “White Ash” as well, such as Aleck’s canted, high-shouldered pose as he talks to Lillian mid-issue, but Hughes maintains a clean line with a lot of gentle cartooning in character faces and figures. Backgrounds incorporate an appropriate level of detail, from the local bar in the first scene to the Great Northern-esque estate that dwarfs Aleck and his vehicle later. The final moments of chaos show that Hughes can pull off some apocalyptic establishing shots, even if some of the panels that are a bit small.
Seth is the kind of Near Dark vampire I prefer (i.e. violent,) but he’s got enough refinement and mystery to appeal to a swath of horror fans. Stickney and Hughes add the right amount of detail to flesh him out as a character without giving away all the mystery at once – just what you want out of a first issue. It’s clear there’s something deeper at play than a lone blood-sucking industrial terrorist, however, and “White Ash” #1 does a good job at skewing a traditional small-town story and generating interest for subsequent issues.
Cramb chooses a much brighter color palette than you might expect from a book with this tone, and the contrast works. The pastels and gentle misery reinforce Aleck’s perspective on the town – it’s bleak, yes, but there’s still a veneer of youthful brightness at play. Seth’s introductory scene is done in richer tones that contrast well, and the final scene bleeds almost all of the color out of the book entirely. The effect is appropriate, and sets the mood for the next issue. Hughes’s lettering is minimally styled, with a straightforward font and a bit more padding than might be necessary in a few spots. There’s one drawn balloon that’s placed well during a fight scene, and a very intriguing interjection from Aleck’s father. Overall, the effect is clear and the book is readable.
“White Ash” #1 introduces an engaging, if prickly, protagonist, a mysterious villain and a big ol’ helping of chaos and tension. Stickney, Hughes and Cramb put together an entertaining and interesting first peek into this world, and with Aleck’s future in question and an esoteric mystery on the brink of exposure, we’ll have to keep reading to see how it all fits together.
The Verdict: 8/10 – “White Ash” #1 is an enjoyable and effective first issue, with good plotting, art and craft behind its concept.