03rd Jul2020

‘Devil’s Highway #1’ Review (AWA Studios)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Benjamin Percy | Art by Brent Schoonover | Published by AWA Studios

Never underestimate the power of a good cover. I’m not just talking about sticking a poster shot up on the front, as Marvel and DC are likely to do these days, but an actual cover that gives you a brief taster of the story, that intrigues you enough to then pick up that book. Devil’s Highway did just that, standing out from most of the other covers I was leafing through. The old school, noir style cover was intriguing enough, but the muted colours were in sharp contrast to the bright red shoe lying front and centre. Why was it there? Who’s was it? The hint that something bad may have happened is always far more effective than showing something bad happening. So hats off to AWA’s Cover Editor and Cover (and interior) Artist Brent Schoonover, who literally sold this book to me. Give those guys a raise.

This is the first AWA Studios book I have picked up, but it certainly won’t be the last. A quick check shows that AWA are Artists, Writers, and Artisans, and have a very heavy hitting team in place. Headed by ex-Marvel bods Axel Alonso and Bill Jemas, they also have involved guys like Garth Ennis, J.Michael Straczynski Reginald Hudlin and many others. That being said, I was a little familiar with the books creative team. Writer Benjamin Percy has done some Marvel and DC work I enjoyed, and Brent Schoonover did the fab Batman’66 amongst other stuff. Well, it all looks promising, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating….Time to munch.

Happily enough, that gorgeous gothic/ noir atmosphere effortlessly drips from the cover through to the first page, as we check in to an isolated Wisconsin diner in the midst of a snowstorm. It’s closing time, but just as the lights are being turned off, a woman spattered in blood bangs on the door begging for help. The good news is Joe lets her in. The bad news is, an uninvited guest follows. We jump forward three days, but only after a gorgeous two page spread of the diner and snowstorm. I’d have that as a poster right now. In the town Police station they are discussing the murder when a woman arrives. She’s Sharon Harrow, the daughter of the murdered Diner owner, and she’s pretty pissed. Like all good noir, she’s got a lot of history with the town and its inhabitants, which it seems is why she left, and the fact she’s back won’t be a happy occasion for either side. What she wants right now is access to her father’s police file. Or else.

The atmosphere is almost a character in its own right from this point, as Sharon starts to investigate her father’s death. She revisits both her empty family home and the closed Diner, and the visuals do most of the heavy lifting, with some minimal internal monologue along the way. Sharon quickly works out that her father wasn’t the intended victim, that the murderer was looking for someone else and her father was collateral damage. The trip to the morgue, to see her father, is particularly touching, as is her returning to her old bedroom, teddy bear and all. Sharon is clearly a very angry individual, but also it seems a very driven one. You get the impression she’d find her father’s murderer, if he doesn’t find her first of course. It seems he’s aware Sharon has been poking around and doesn’t like that one bit.

Well that was rather good. If this was a TV series you’d watch it in a shot, something along the lines of True Detective or Fargo, but even darker. A murder mystery, possible serial killer, and strong female lead returning to her old town, what’s not to like. A script dripping with tension, anger and broken dreams, and visuals both beautiful and menacing in equal measure. Percy’s writing is perfect in that there is no fat on the bone of his script. His characters drive the story, talk when they need to, and when they don’t need to, Schoonover’s art takes it from there. The art is laid out and paced perfectly, it shouts at you when it has to, and whispers when it needs to. Two creators really working to each other’s strengths. Great stuff.

A publisher strong on creative freedom, and two excellent creators looking to tell an intense story through their unique vision. A slam dunk for me.

***** 5/5

Devil’s Highway #1 is out now from AWA Studios.


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