By Kyle Starks, Chris Schweizer
The penultimate issue of Rock Candy Mountain, the self proclaimed “Kung Fu Hobo Epic”, continues to delight. Starks and Schweizer’s story is a palette cleanser amongst the darker stories being told in comics. Even though the odds are stacked immensely against our hobo heroes, hope never dies, thanks to Starks’ wittiness and Schweizer’s dazzling colors. Issue #7 encompasses all the best parts of the series with its simultaneously brutal and comedic action, silly schemes destined for failure, and at the center of it all, forgiveness and reunification. The creators’ ability to control tone lets all of these qualities live together harmoniously and elevates it beyond a humor comic.
The fights in this issue combine the expected Rock Candy Mountain beats with an appropriate elevation for this lead up to the finale. Sound effects for a face punch and dialogue pre-brawl show the never pass up a joke mentality of the book, while some dramatic panel layouts paint the badassery of its characters. Not to mention, the gory displays of death. The biggest fight of the series so far occurs in this issue with a double page spread of axe-wielding, hammer-swinging madness. Starks thrives in moments like these where he can hide jokes amongst chaos in a Where’s Waldo of gags.
Slim’s return is more than welcome, as his character’s humor returns, too. He shines as the brother Jackson never knew he wanted, but always needed. The moments between these two are rewarding, and, of course, not without a laugh. Starks leaps between confessions and comedic interjections without missing a beat in a way that’s true to both characters. In other books, this might feel disingenuine, but the storytelling and established tone of the book makes this scene and its end result totally deserved.
This wouldn’t be possible without the artwork of the book. From one panel to the next, the tone of the scene is clear, even if it changes with each bit of dialogue. This is mostly accomplished with over exaggerated facial expressions, and control of background color. When characters in Rock Candy Mountain feel something, they express it dramatically. The characters are so well humanized that readers empathize with them like they would a friend. In more intense moments, the creators use a solid color background, typically dark, to indicate a switch in tone. It’s a common trick, but effective, especially in the artstyle here. Throughout the entire issue, though, is Schweizer’s somber sky. The warm orange pastel seems to foreshadow what’s to come, and the colors in the rest of the issue compliment it beautifully.
The bittersweet Rock Candy Mountain #7’s worst quality is that it signals the finale of this smart series. The creative team understands the mechanics of comics and of the genre in a way that distinguishes their work as unique. This mashup of themes and genres dressed up in hobo’s clothing shouldn’t work, but month in and month out it builds on itself, leaning into and embracing all of its oddities.