With ominous warnings and no idea where he is, a young man has a quest: find the House of Gold and Bones. What's in this titular house? He has no idea. But after having been transported to a strange land, our unnamed protagonist doesn't have any other options. House of Gold & Bones #1, written by Stone Sour and Slipknot lead singer Corey Taylor, based on the upcoming album of the same name, tells a mysterious, unsettling story that's set in a wide open expansive world rendered visually by Richard Clark and Dan Jackson. Panoramic vistas, perilous rock formations, and ominous skies comprise this strange world, along with a blood red city and a frightening mob who show up out of nowhere.
It's all incredibly strange and haunting, and the issue visually reaches for a little bit more than it's getting from the script. Clark's large character gestures and Jackson's color art combine to form a representational style that in some ways recalls the type of thing that used to be found in certain mid-1990's Vertigo titles (Steve Dillon is one easy comparison). The colors especially distinguish themselves here by shifting their purposes from scene to scene. When the main character meets his (evil?) ghostly double in a secluded one-room cabin, the atmosphere of the story gets really phantasmagoric, which pushes the emphasis onto bolder colors and makes for some really stunning moments. In other scenes, when it's just the main character by himself out on the rocky land, the colors stay out of the way, enhancing the sense of place and texture and allow Clark's linework to tell the story. The art is attractive with a clean style and easygoing narrative flow.
What's less easygoing is Taylor's script. It doesn't move all that smoothly, with inner monologue that feels like song lyrics jammed into the comics form (we're treated to lines like "an alien sound assaulted my ears, like a hoard on the hunt for bedlam" and "I ran like my life depended on it. From what? I didn't want to know"). It's not that such poetic flourishes couldn't work, but here they feel more like stumbling blocks to be carefully tread upon rather than elements that carry a reader through the narrative. The anonymous protagonist has an encounter with a spectral doppleganger who warns him of an oncoming danger while toying with his mind a bit. The sequence drags a bit, and the impact it's supposed to have is dulled as a result. Moments like that, which could be punchier, are scattered throughout the issue, and it makes for a read that just doesn't land like it should. That said, this difficulty does result in the reader feeling a similar disorientation that the protagonist is going through. The story feels a bit disjointed, but not unintentionally so. There's definitely some intrigue and latent expectation, along with a discomfiting horror tinge to the story, but it never fully ties up as tightly as it probably could have.
House of Gold & Bones #1 is the start of something that frankly has a lot of potential. The transmedia experience the project is going for (the story of the comic is also the that of the Stone Sour album) is an interesting enough idea, but probably won't mean much until the comic is completed (the album is a complete work unto itself, after all). As a single issue, there are some good moments, but House #1 doesn't entirely feel complete and it suffers from some speed bumps along the way. It does feel like there will be more to it as the issues go on, but in the early going, the art is certainly worth a look. Here's hoping patient fans get rewarded with a much richer and smoother experience at the conclusion of the story.