Rock Candy Mountain: The Surprising Nuance of Kyle Starks’ Hobo Epic

Rock Candy Mountain Issue #7 hits stores January 3.

In its twilight issue, Rock Candy Mountain pulls together the strings of several dangling plot lines and delivers tons of action while pushing forward important character arcs. It also ends on a cliffhanger that will leave fans aching for issue #8, which isn’t out until February.

Issue #7, “The Jungle Fires Were Burning,” is the first issue in Rock Candy Mountain‘s two-part finale. It’s funny, moving, and passionately ridiculous, which puts it in line with the rest of the series. It’s also a nail-biter. Will Jackson make it to Big Rock Candy Mountain? Will he see his family again?

Does he deserve that, after everything?

For seven issues, we’ve followed Jackson through a deal with the devil, a failed friendship, a flashback to World War II, the death of his family, and the slow realization that his story is one for the ages. At times, Jackson is incredibly difficult to root for — but Starks humanizes him in big ways during the second arc of the series, and in issue #7, we see him make huge strides toward improving his emotional karma.

#RockCandyMountain Issue 7 is funny, moving, and passionately ridiculous, which puts it in line with the rest of the series. It's also a nail-biter. @thekylestarks @imagecomics Click To Tweet

Starks calls Rock Candy Mountain a “jokey fight book”, but it’s a helluva lot more than that.

While he incorporates tropes from kung-fu films and “buddy” movies (think I Love You, Man but less misogynistic), as well as character archetypes like Victorian dandies and journeying heroes, this 8-part series from Image Comics also explores the history of hobos in America and the importance of the expanding railroad system for finding work in the early 20th century. It explores white supremacy, violence against the working poor, religious propaganda, and the role that faith plays in a person’s ability to keep going when times are especially tough.

When I interviewed Starks for Rogues Portal last year, we talked about the nuance of the series and how he dismantles many of the myths surrounding hobos within its pages:

The moment I started doing any kind of research I realized [hobos are] not at all what the public perception is. Like, here’s a guy opening beans; he looks like a clown, just jumping trains. They’re not that. A hobo is a very specific word that doesn’t mean homeless; it means a traveler who works. They were itinerant workers who were critical to the expansion of America. The Great Depression was the “golden age of hobos”. People had to travel to make money because there was no money to make.

Once the wars happened, a huge percentage of people who were active hobos were ex-vets. A lot of that is because of what we now call PTSD. When you come back from years of killing people, you can’t go work at mom’s restaurant. You just need to be by yourself. That’s not a one to one ratio; a lot of different people chose this lifestyle for different reasons. Some were even outright criminals. But a lot were ex-vets who wanted to make money and be left alone.

It’s this history that lends so much weight to the story Starks is telling. For a “hobo epic”, this series does a significant amount of work. It’s also extremely emotional — issue #5, which explores Jackson’s time in World War II and the loss of his family, had me wracked with sobs.

This series has a lot of heart. You can feel it in Starks’ writing, see it in his art, taste it in Chris Schweizer’s incredible coloring. This book feels like it takes place in the late 1940s, but it also puts a fresh spin on what could otherwise be a poorly-executed hero’s journey. Schweizer’s colors are also, seriously, some of the best I’ve ever seen. His clear understanding of Starks’ work comes through loud and clear, and it makes reading Rock Candy Mountain all the more enjoyable.

#RockCandyMountain has a lot of heart. You can feel it in @thekylestarks' writing, see it in his art, taste it in @schweizercomics' incredible coloring. Click To Tweet

Now, as this creative team runs full-speed ahead toward the final pages of Rock Candy Mountain, the stakes are especially high. Jackson has literally spent most of the series running — from the hobo mafia, from the FBI, from the devil himself — and he’s always been headed toward what he thinks is his salvation, even as he’s run away from taking responsibility for his choices. Along the way, he’s collected enemies as well as friends. In issue #7, we see these characters come together in one of the most explosive scenes of the series so far.

The final pages of “The Jungle Fires Were Burning” will leave readers breathless. Thus far, the series’ pacing has felt tried and true, even when Starks took us back in time for an entire issue. Issue #7 picks up the pace significantly. However, the change doesn’t feel unwarranted. And even as the pacing has shifted, the nuance hasn’t gone away. Starks’ ability to execute emotional conversations in between jokes and bloody fights remains true.

Jackson is reaching the end of his journey. Whatever obstacles he encounters now, he’ll have to defeat even more efficiently than before. Big Rock Candy Mountain is waiting. It’s time Jackson arrived.

Rock Candy Mountain Rating: ★★★★★

Rock Candy Mountain Issue #7: “The Jungle Fires Were Burning” is the first of a two-part series finale. It hits comic shops January 3. You can order back issues online through the author or through Image Comics. In Full Bleed received an advanced copy PDF of the issue from the author for review purposes.