Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer: Cullen Bunn
Artwork: Jonas Scharf
Colours: Alex Guimaraes
Lettering: Ed Dukeshire
Release Date: 1st May 2018
“The Ash” is a new designer drug that’s is like nothing else on the market. Made out of human remains, it allows the user to feel the experiences of the dead, offering up limitless – and utterly addictive – possibilities. In the first four-issue arc of BONE PARISH, Cullen Bunn and Jonas Scharf introduce us to the Winters family, the creators of this drug, as they find themselves beset on all sides – and from within – by people trying to capitalise on their discovery.
As you might expect, the series shines the brightest when it’s focusing on the effects of the drug itself, and we get to see some brilliantly creative uses for its effects throughout the course of this first arc. The fact that the user can gain the experience and knowledge of the person whose remains they’re imbibing offers up some cracking opportunities, and whether it’s taking a quick hit to become a dead-eye sniper or using the drug to bring back a dearly departed loved one, Bunn does a great job of giving us a tantalising glimpse of the sheer raw potential of his idea.
That said, these moments are perhaps a little too few and far between for my tastes, leaving the bulk of the narrative to be carried by some fairly run-of-the-mill gangland squabbling. Warnings are issued, threats are dismissed, loved ones are tortured, vengeance is sworn – don’t get me wrong, it’s all solid enough stuff, but the series only really steps out of the middle of the pack when Bunn and Scharf lean into the concept of “The Ash” itself.
On the plus side, Scharf’s artwork does a great job with both the grounded and hallucinogenic aspects of the story, giving everything a suitably gritty and grimy aesthetic that fits the tone perfectly. The world is dark and shadowy, and almost every scene takes place indoors or at night, and colourist Alex Guimaraes helping to build a wonderfully oppressive feel throughout. These scenes contrast beautifully with the hazy neon of the various “trips”, and while these sequences are frequently juxtaposed with real-world violence, they work well to showcase the tantalising nature of the drug.
There are some cracking ideas introduced here, from grave-digging to order, where specific targets are selected for the next batch of “The Ash”, to the intriguing relationship between Winters family matriarch Grace and her husband Andre. The pace picks up nicely as the arc expands, and there’s a suitably tense showdown in the fourth issue that clears the decks for the next obstacle the dysfunctional family are going to have to overcome as the series continues.
At the end of the day, BONE PARISH is an entertaining crime drama in the vein of Breaking Bad, with a superior narcotic product drawing attention from various criminal organisations who want to muscle in and take over. And while it frequently sidelines its unique selling point in favour of some slightly by-the-numbers crime family bickering and plotting, there’s still a hell of a lot to like here.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Alex Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek