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Rock Candy Mountain #1 (Review)

Rock Candy Mountain #1
Image Comics, April 2017
Writer: Kyle Starks

Many people have the impression that “hobo” and “tramp” are interchangeable terms for someone constantly traveling, usually impoverished, and generally homeless. To be fair, the terms have perhaps changed over time to be synonymous. But there is, at least technically, a dictionary distinction. A “tramp” generally avoids employment and will only take on work when necessary or if available. But a “hobo” is a migratory worker who may go on long vacations in order to travel or someone who takes on odd jobs as he comes across them, in his travels to different places.

The central characters in American publisher Image Comics’ new comic book series, “Rock Candy Mountain”, embody these two frequently switched categories of homeless vagabonds. The first one is a well-dressed, bespectacled man who has adopted “Hollywood Slim” as his “hobo name. ” The name comes from the fact that he travelled to post-World War II California seeking fame as a movie star. The hobo name is used ironically because the man failed to see any success in Hollywood. The character blames this upon bad luck, but admits that this is a shield for his bruised ego. Hollywood Slim enters the story as he makes his way to Kentucky in order to spend the rest of his life working at his second cousin’s pest control business.

The other person, who is described by the comic book pitch as “the world’s toughest hobo” but so far exhibits characteristics more akin to a tramp, is a man named “Jackson.” Jackson is introduced when he helps Hollywood Slim stow away on a train, promising him protection and guidance in exchange for having an extra set of hands around to help with work. There is mystery being built around Jackson’s character, primarily with his travels. Jackson says he is inspired by the folk song titled “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” intent on finding the “hobo’s paradise” painted in the song, even as he is repeatedly ridiculed by people for believing in a fictional place. There is also the matter of Jackson being hunted down by policemen who are after an item in his possession. And, leaping into fantasy, there is the Devil. The Devil has massacred a group of hobos in the comic’s introductory pages in an effort to find out Jackson’s whereabouts.

This is an action comic as well as a fantasy. The first issue wastes no time in giving readers a smattering of fight scenes. There is the Devil’s fight against a group of hobos, and there is also Jackson protecting Hollywood Slim from another group of hobos in the railcar. Thus, both protagonist and antagonist are demonstrable fighters. The aggressive group in the rail car is interestingly led by a bearded old man claiming to be “Marion Flimbo,” the son of a powerful railroad tycoon. The story has not yet made clear whether this is true or whether the old man only manages to extort and bully people by using threats of violence from his cadre of hobos.

The dialogue is sharp and witty. While it uses jargon, none of it is esoteric enough to get in the way of a reader’s understanding of the story. “Rock Candy Mountain” is a fairly light read so far. It is too early in the series to have a clear understanding of where the plot is going, but in its current state what little plot is dropped in the pages is already enough to keep a reader engaged.