Sunday, April 17, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: The Sixth Gun - Volume 1

We've talked a bit before about The Sixth Gun, a western/ fantasy/ horror book from Oni Press. Unfortunately for somebody in the equation, The Sixth Gun was one of the books I moved to my "will read in Trade format" during last year's re-think on how I was consuming my comics. For this post to feel more useful, I'd definitely hop back to that first post at the link above, and consider this a follow up.

Finally getting to Sixth Gun's first trade comes on the heels of me finally exploring a bit of Palmiotti and Gray's version of Jonah Hex, likely the best selling western comic in the US comics scene. Fortunately, just as movie westerns are really a big tent for all sorts of sub-genres, so, too, are comics westerns. Where we can get our Spaghetti Western on in the pages of Hex, Sixth Gun is telling aan adventure/horror tale of walking dead men, ancient evils and man's pivotal place in that scheme, circa 1870's America.

Bunn and Hurtt's comic shouldn't read as well as it does. By that I mean - there are a lot of comics on the stands that are mash-ups of two or more pop-culture concepts (seriously, you can't keep up), be it "Werewolf Zombie-Killer", "Chtulu High School", or "Spacefaring Vampire Superheroes" or whatever. And most of them are a kind of cute/ high concept idea with a neat cover and character designs, and then absolutely no ability to actually execute on a story.

Sixth Gun mixes concepts, and its hard to say its anything new, exactly, which is why it seems like this should fail.  But here at The Signal Watch, we say: it works.  The pacing, dialog, characters, etc...  may not be cut from new cloth, but Bunn and Hurtt seem to have that alchemy at their fingertips that can take those concepts and  breathe new life into them, pushing the story forward via well-conveyed character motivation and making the elements pulled from other sources fit like gears.

Bunn understands the spirit of the Southern culture he's depicting (I believe he's from Missouri, which puts him pretty neatly there below the Mason-Dixon line), and the misplaced honor and grandeur of the Old South which produces characters like our heroes and villains, and the expansion into the west as a sort of post-war purgatory where towns could burn to ashes and that was simply that.  And he knows what's actually scary about the concepts he's pulling into play.

Add in a set of a half-dozen guns-of-the-damned granting the carriers with supernatural properties, beasts from American mythology, and nightmare-inspired bar brawls, and Sixth Gun makes for a pretty darn good read.

As is now site policy, I'm going to wait to see how Volume 2 pans out before I give this book a "Signal Watch Official Seal of Recommended Reading".  I'd like to see where Bunn takes the protagonists, who showed signs of character, but seems to be on the slow boil model of character revelation.  Frankly, there's enough going on in the first volume with world setting, conflict establishment, etc...  that I didn't really feel like I was missing much until I began thinking about what we know about the rakish Drake Sinclair and Becky, the preacher's daughter who seems to have a bit of iron in her that precludes a standard-issue damsel in distress that a less creative writer might have put in her place. 

Hurtt's animation-friendly artistic style still works remarkably well for me, and I'll take it over any number of high-gloss, improbable anatomy wielding, no-understanding of action-framing artists out there working on high-profile books.  The terrain of the West, the mixing of western and wild mythology, etc...  blend very well under his pencil. 

Anyhow, we'll be back to talk Volume 2 when that edition arrives.

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