Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” As far as I can tell, that saying is attributed to Confucius, and it’s the first thing I thought about before embarking on the journey of reading Two Graves #1. Is this a revenge story, then?
Two Graves is a new Image series from writer Genevieve Valentine, artists Annie Wu and Ming Doyle, colorist Lee Loughridge, and letterer Aditya Bidikar. Emilia and a character whose visage is concealed by a veil of smoke are on a road trip. It’s influenced by and makes overt references to the myth of Persephone. She was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus, kidnapped by Hades because he wanted a wife; you know, that old chestnut. If you’re unfamiliar with the myth, don’t worry, there’s a brief three-page retelling of portions of the myth with possibly the best artwork in the comic showcasing Persephone in the Underworld. Pomegranates are heavily featured. “But a pomegranate is a corpse” is my second favorite line in the comic. I won’t spoil my favorite.
Valentine’s writing feels more poetic than almost anything I’ve read recently in comics. It reminded me of the first time I read the challenging and compelling Coffin Bound by the creative team of Dan Watters, Dani, Brad Simpson, and Aditya Bidikar. There’s an underlying mystery as to why these two characters are on this particular road trip; how did they first meet, and why can’t Emilia remember? The surface-level mystery is only one layer of this story, though. At times, Valentine’s writing seems more like a meditation on loss, hunger, grief, and the passage of time. I’m less concerned with the narrative than how it all makes me feel.
Annie Wu and Ming Doyle share artistic duties to provide competing points of view, which is an interesting approach, and a successful one. There’s a thickness to Emilia’s panels, which usually include a full-panel depiction of the countryside or the sky, as in the opening panel. The often twilight-esque color palette that Loughridge uses provides a heaviness to these scenes as though this isn’t quite reality. The scenes of the “man” whose face is concealed by smoke have thinner lines, are in sharper contrast, and often the colors are brighter. Intuitively it seems the opposite of expectations for a character that is Hades or Death or some incarnation of them. The difference in perspective between the two main characters is also evident in Bidikar’s lettering. Bidikar uses a more traditional font and speech bubbles for Emilia, with black lettering on a white background. The font for the “man” is thinner, colored light blue over dark blue, with the bubbles being misshapen polygons. This reinforces the otherworldliness of the “man.” There is much of this first issue that focuses on mood and atmosphere over plot, and it is all the better for it.
I typically read a comic twice when I write a review. I’ve read Two Graves #1 six times now, and I’ve discovered something new each time. I’m writing this review now, listening to Mavis Staples’ version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s See That My Grave is Kept Clean”. It’s a Blues song that’s sad and mournful with a killer beat, and Staples’ voice touches my soul and sends a shiver down my spine. It’s strange how Death creates an obligation for the living. It’s clear to me why there’s a nod to this song in the comic. Before I started reading Two Graves (the very first time), I asked myself if this was a revenge story. I think it is, but that’s just one thing that it is. It’s also a story about a road trip, life and death, obligation, and things that make us afraid. Regardless of the ultimate lessons revealed when this story ends, I’m along for the ride.