Stephen Graham Jones, a renowned horror writer with novels like Mongrels and My Heart is a Chainsaw under his belt, recently tried his hand at writing a comic book. The result was Earthdivers. This story begins in a world torn apart by climate change and features an indigenous man using a magic cave to travel back in time to assassinate Christopher Columbus before he discovers the new world (and the story itself is just as bonkers as the premise). However, the second volume of Earthdivers titled Ice Age and illustrated by Riccardo Burchielli, goes further back into the past while also focusing on different characters.
The protagonist in this tale is Tawny, an indigenous woman who found her way into the magic cave as she and her husband search for their lost children. Instead of 1492, however, Tawny is sent to prehistoric Florida, circa 20,000 BC. Not only must she navigate a world full of megafauna and prehistoric beasts, she is also trapped in a war brewing between the native Paleo-indians that inhabit the area and invaders coming from what is today Europe. All this mother wants is to find her children, but Tawny’s spear is sharp and she’s ready to do whatever it takes to find them.
One thing reviewers can’t say about Stephen Graham Jones is that he’s unwilling to experiment. Much in the way his fiction uses indigenous myths and metafiction, this second volume of Earthdivers mostly chucks the story from volume 1 and begins a totally new one featuring a minor character. It’s a risk that might alienate those that want a continuation of volume 1’s story, but Tawny’s quest for her children is a well-told tale in its own right, showing off a survival narrative that lays bare Tawny’s psyche as she searches seemingly in vain for her children. Dropped into a time where survival is dependent on if you’re willing to kill, she faces down both creatures and humans who get in her way.
Bringing to life this prehistoric world where killing is necessary are Burchielli’s illustrations. Mountains are jagged and foreboding. Whirling snowstorms blow mercilessly against Tawny as she struggles to stay upright. The animals here look large and strong enough to tear Tawny in half. Even the way he depicts the humans who survive in this world, with their animal-inspired clothing, make them seem otherworldly but still tangible, at least tangible enough to stab someone.
It was a big risk for Jones to start a new story in this volume, but that risk pays off. It helps that this is a well-crafted story about a mother’s love and what kind of violence a mother can commit when the possibility of finding her children is at stake. Jones also adds some moments that connect this story to the previous tale and perhaps to the overall narrative. It’s a risk to commit to a multivolume work where the story’s payoff might let readers down, but Jones has the tools that will lure readers into the magic cave for many volumes.
Earthdivers: Ice Age; Vol. 2
By Stephen Graham Jones
Art by Riccardo Burchielli
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)