There was a time, before Al Qaida fucking up flying for everybody, that you could buy a blank ticket from an airline and cash it in wherever or whenever you wanted. Friend of mine kept one in his trunk with enough miles on it to take him at least to Europe, if not further, with a suitcase loaded with clothes and his passport. He kept these in his trunk at all times, you know, just in case. Just in case what, I asked. In case it's time to go, he said.
He wasn't an extraordinarily criminal guy; he wasn't dodging bookies or drug dealers or any of that; he wasn't a stealer of wives nor of girlfriends -- but there was some little trigger inside of him that could go off and insist that it was time to disappear somewhere for a while.
LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL starts on some anonymous morning of anonymous schlub Charles Pierce's anonymous life, and by lunchtime that little trigger inside of him has been pulled. On his way to some business meeting somewhere in Virginia, rocking out to Slow Ride on the AM radio, Charles' car breaks down and strands him in just north of the middle of nowhere. His car seems to be in need of permanent repair, his cell phone gets no service, and the waitress at the diner flirts back a little -- so as he settles in to wait out the repair, he starts to, in fact, wait out the rest of his life. The less you know, the better.
Author Neal Shaffer keeps his cards close to his chest here as he did in his first book, One Plus One. At times bucolic, at times wandering not far from The Twilight Zone, and never telegraphed or predictable, Shaffer writes with a quiet exactitude, admirable in its grace, menace, and silence. Artist Christopher Mitten, in his first published work, may miss some human moments here and there but more than makes up for it with his eye for staging and detail, and certainly announces himself as a talent to watch. Dawn Pietrusko tones the book with an understanding of grayscale and textures that's often rare in black and white comics.
LAST EXIT BEFORE TOLL made me think of my friend with the ticket to nowhere in the trunk, and wonder where he is now. He's either outside of Seattle or on an Alaskan fishing boat, depending on whom you ask.
Matt Fraction splits his time between motion graphics and design house MK12, writing comics, and reading comics. He is the author of the graphic novels The Annotated Mantooth and Last of the Independents, both available from AiT/Planet Lar. He can be found on the web at mattfraction.com. His wife is hot.