"Bolts: Volume 1 – The Conduit" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Action Lab: Danger Zone
Originally published as Bolts #1 - #3
Written and illustrated by James Whynot
2016, 80 Pages
Trade paperback released on October 4th, 2016
Mary Shelley's classic novel, Frankenstein, only told part of the story. What happened after townspeople stormed the castle with their pitchforks and torches? What happened to the monster? Bolts gives one possible alternative future for the creature, transporting him to a far off wasteland with massive beasts and people that would kill you just for the shirt on your back. Struggling to figure out what he is, why he's here, and what to do next, Frank finds himself imbued with a strange power, quickly making him the target of the mysterious – and literal – Dragon.
What immediately stands out in Bolts is the artwork. It's presented in black, white, and red, and there are equal parts of each color. Actually, there's probably more red than anything else; from Frank's cape to the various monsters to the gallons and gallons of blood spilled throughout these three chapters. Writer / artist James Whynot has a finely detailed style with tons of intricately designed lines making up each image. Each panel has room to breathe, which allows you to really soak in the shots and enjoy every little attribute of the pages.
This is no more apparent than with the monsters. There are several, each more terrifying than the last. Bolts gets points for sheer variety. You've got everything from gunslingers with bat-like wings and razor sharp jaws to dogs with giant vertical mouths instead of heads to huge kaiju beasts trampling buildings. That's just in the first chapter! At times they're hulking masses of flesh, teeth, and claws, which reminds me a bit of The Spread, which is certainly not a bad thing. It makes them so unsettling to look at. You can imagine how something like that must feel and the very thought sends shivers down my spine.
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My only issue with the artwork is that it can be difficult to understand what's going on in heated action. This is partially due to the use of color, especially red. Frank is clad in a flowing red cape, giving him a look reminiscent of Tetsuo in Akira. This gets tangled up with the red in his enemy's outfit and all the blood that's spilled in the battle, leaving a mess of crimson that's tough to comprehend.
Whynot points out in the afterword to some of the chapters that he made a conscious decision not to reveal the names of the characters early on. They have titles like The Dragon or The Messenger. Hell, even Frank's name isn't actually revealed in the book. I only know it because it's written on the back cover. This is part of a larger plan as Bolts is a mash-up of several genres and tropes near and dear to Whynot's heart. Names are important. I just wish we'd get some of those reveals earlier.
Bolts is a book that doesn't take itself too seriously. This could have been a very stoic, hard-nosed epic fantasy adventure. Instead, the characters themselves point out how crazy their world is. Unfortunately, much of the dialogue is immature and filled with lame gags like arguments about a cool hat or a “frickin' sweet sword.” This rhetoric gets old quickly, even with the short length of the trade paperback.
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Aside from Frank, characters are introduced completely out of the blue. It's almost like a video game in that sense. People just decide to join Frank on his journey. As a result, there's not a lot of time spent on character development. You get the basics about each person and those details are mostly about what kind of weapons they prefer.
Bolts has a lot going for it and it's clear that James Whynot is establishing a massive world filled with everything from giant monsters to Frankenstein to pop culture references. The artwork is amazing and the black, white, and red works well for the most part, to the point where providing any other color would do the book a disservice. With just three chapters, we're just tipping our toe into this universe. Right when the story really gets going, the book ends and we're put on hold until the next batch of issues can be released. I'm very curious as to where it goes next and what other elements are introduced.