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'Ain't No Grave' #2 moves this horsey along at just the right speed
Image Comics

Comic Books

‘Ain’t No Grave’ #2 moves this horsey along at just the right speed

‘Ain’t No Grave’ is even more alive than its debut.

With issue #1, it felt like Ain’t No Grave couldn’t fully get out of its own way. Sure, this western tale of a love that transcends death had heaps of potential, but there were also miscalculations and half-cocked ideas stimming that greater sense of magic.

Luckily, issue #2 addresses some of these concerns for a more promising turn for this still-young (but not for much longer) miniseries.

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One of the biggest issues in the debut was that it didn’t feel like there was much actually happening in Ain’t No Grave. This time around, writer Skottie Young seems more confident even as he has fewer pages to work with, and the end result is a more robust and compelling storyline. Seeking to further make her way into the company of Death to stave off her own mortal ending, Ryder travels to the town of Cypress, where she gets some helpful directions of where to head next. And that’s really it, but the streamlined approach gives this story a directness and intensity that it couldn’t fully muster or maintain with the debut (where more of the world was being established).

Sure, a lot of that pacing has to do with the art — more on that later — but it has just as much to do with the whimsy and energy that Young still manages to inject into a decidedly mature and bloody story. The story hums right along, and we get the big action scenes and a solid chase sequence and still plenty of room for context-generating flashbacks that move at a similarly committed pace. It makes the world more exciting, and yet things still feel as emotionally resonant because it’s all about Ryder’s deeply imperfect, massively human needs and ideas informing all this kinetic goodness.

At the same time, I think part of this streamlining could’ve mitigated some of the emotional development and general displays for Ryder. In issue #1, I noted how we got a kind of uncertainty from her — that as she was trying to still be a good mom and a fully redeemed person, she was having issues going back to her old, more murderous ways. And that tension really informed a big part of who she was, who she was becoming, and ultimately our relationship with her.

Ain't No Grave

Variant cover by Skottie Young. Courtesy of Image Comics.

In issue #2, though, I didn’t get nearly enough of that, and through the use of flashbacks that were also married to her current day happenings, I got that Ryder isn’t feeling quite as torn. If anything, she’s committed to being a bit more ruthless and ornery to get to what she needs (an appointment with Death at somewhere she doesn’t belong). And, sure, that helps with that pacing and the deliberateness of the story, but it also makes her a bit less three-dimensional this time around. Fortunately, there was a solution even as it proved a touch more subtle.

Because the whole gimmicky nature of Ryder’s journey felt a little less overt this issue; the pacing made it feel more like a journey with proper heft and stakes, and that made it feel different from this kind of trope that’s already existed of people confronting Death like some awful debt collector. That, and there were other editorial decisions made to show the pointlessness of her efforts, and yet how she persevered regardless.

That tendency, then, told us more about the way Ryder is divorcing herself from certain ideas and values, and how she’s committed to her goal no matter how much she loses of herself. It’s setting up some proper consequences for her down the line, and possibly a realization of what she might really lose if she can’t just abandon this quest and try and use her remaining time actually with her family. If that can likely land down the road, it’s going to have even more power than all the back-and-forth, and prove just how deeply relatable Ryder has been all along.

Of all the good and bad things in these two issues, the art (from artist Jorge Corona, colorist Jean-Francois Beaulieu, and letterer-designer Nate Piekos) felt continually like a proper highlight. That’s because the art in issue #1 kept our attention when things went a little long/overly involved, and made moments of quiet sadness or romantic hope feel especially robust. While a lot of that’s also true in issue #2, there’s something else here as well.

The town of Cypress is a kind of in-between place (at least it felt that way), and where death and dying really are a part of everyday life. So, quite accordingly, things felt a little more dirty or rugged than some of the more picturesque moments back home that defined issue #1. Cypress really felt like a nasty, awful place, and all the dark hues and grim energy really saturated the world. It give us not only a clue about the tone of this chapter, but it seemed to “infect” Ryder in some ways, and that way some of her decisions and emotionality here just made a little more sense. It was a time to delve into something darker and more primordial, and Cypress felt more alive and special because it was also given its own identity and sense of place in the larger world. Yet it still felt consistent with issue #1 in all the most important ways, and that’s how you build a world that reverberates with ideas and possibilities.

Ain't No Grave

Main cover by Jorge Corona. Courtesy of Image Comics.

I mentioned earlier the more “brisk” pace of this issue, and how the art was really responsible for helping us move along and still feel hugely satisfied. The “darker” feel of this issue certainly was a part of that — it was texture to play around with, and it augmented and supplemented what really worked in issue #1. But also, perhaps a bit more directly, this pacing had to do with some of other key features. For one, a lot of this issue was one big action scene/chase, and that’s not only super exciting, but it was paired perfectly with visual breaks/flashbacks to drive the heart of this issue without ever taking us out of the moment. And weirdness was also a factor — it’s hard not to enjoy an issue where Ryder rode a giant ram/goat across the rooftops.

In essence, it was heaps of fun and insanity but grounded with that more sturdy, dire tone to show that this isn’t just some frivolous adventure but a desperate woman doing all she can to chase her asinine goals. And without overhyping the flashbacks, they lent enough of a joyous infusion to not make everything quite so massively important and consequential. We saw more of the world in several ways, and it continued to feel exciting even as we’re clearly moving in one specific direction.

That direction is…something massive. Ain’t No Grave is both broadcasting its path just as much as it feels like we’re being set up for something else and perhaps a possible swerve. If Ryder does make it to Death’s (literal) door, what’s she going to find? And will she even want the same things whenever she arrive? (That could be either the next issue or the finale.) Regardless, it just shows that Ain’t No Grave is making decisions to be fun, loose, and continually poignant, and while the journey ain’t over by a long-shot, I’m ever more hopeful of this trip’s true power and significance.

'Ain't No Grave' #2 moves this horsey along at just the right speed
‘Ain’t No Grave’ #2 moves this horsey along at just the right speed
Ain't No Grave #2
'Ain't No Grave' tackles some of its early uncertainties and downsides for a more textured and exciting second chapter.
Reader Rating1 Votes
There's more power and passion informing the arc of this narrative.
The art continues to feel thrilling even as it works to better set the mood and facilitate an agenda.
I love the way the gimmicky nature of this story is both growing and settling.
There's still some minor issues with our lead, Ryder, but they're not a massive concern.
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