A mysterious stranger is rescued from certain death by a floating head and sent the dangerous world our hero has rashly sworn to save from an unknown evil. Bolts #1 by James Whynot is an ambitious first issue, built around introducing the reader to a setting and atmosphere more than plot or characters. Whynot balances exposition well with scenes that set the mood, although his presentation is choppy early on.
The issue opens as lightning swirls around our protagonist and a mob confronts him. He is dismembered, only to appear before the previously mentioned head, which calls itself the Observer. This fellow addresses our hero as the Traveler and asks him to help save existence from a growing darkness. Immediately, the Traveler is thrown into a desolate landscape populated by monsters. From here, the Traveler spends the rest of the issue making his way through the world, encountering monsters and potential allies.
The artwork in Bolts is done in black and white inks, with red used to color certain objects like capes or monsters. Sometimes the artwork can be unclear, which can serve to exemplify the chaotic nature of the world, but can also make it difficult to follow scenes meant to be presented more straightforwardly. For example, I am still unclear on whether or not the newest character is dead by the end of the comic. Part of the confusion comes from Whynot’s decision for red to be the only color, causing the art done in inks to sometimes blend together. However, there are inventive designs for the monsters and characters inhabiting the world and some neat panel layouts that help with presentation. Finally, Whynot has a good eye for sound effects and little background elements (my favorite being the book titled “Dead Tree”) that marks Bolts as a passion project. I like to see artists and writers on books have fun with their material and Whynot is a good example of such behavior.
Plot and writing-wise, a lot of things happen in this comic, but not too much that it becomes difficult to follow. Some elements are clearly-set up for a longer story-arc, which is frustrating without the context for events or characters, but this is par for the course in serialized story-telling. The transitions in time are clunky and give the impression that the author needed a little bit more room in his story to accommodate these moments. What makes Whynot’s story work are the scenes where dialogue is at a minimum and the desolation of the landscape becomes more prominent. These scenes are bleak and tense, highlighting the unknown dangers which face the inhabitants of this world.
The main character, the Traveler, is a bit of a conundrum. He is introduced in what appears to be an execution scene, and we are told by an omniscient figure that he considers himself a “heartless monster”. However, he acts politely towards figures of authority or experience and only lashes out violently when rattled by an explosion. Most importantly, he agrees relatively quickly to help save existence and expresses both humility and courage in his dedication to this goal. I would expect later issues to either explore his history through flashbacks or to have him avoid talking about his past, seeking a new start in the strange world he is a part of. It is unclear if his attempt at heroism is an attempt to start fresh or reflective of a deeper part of his character, but aside from a few character quirks, he is still a blank slate by the end of the issue.
Bolts #1 presents the story as a sort of otherworldly Western, where a mysterious stranger sweeps into a fantasy wasteland where men with no names struggle to get by. Overall, the art and writing are good, with a few hiccups that are saved by the atmosphere of the story. If you enjoy high fantasy or western-style stories with attitude, check out Bolts!