Red Range: A Wild West Adventure


By Joe R. Lansdale, Sam Glanzman & various (It’s Alive!/IDW)
ISBN: 978-1631409943

Once upon a time, not that very long ago, nearly all of fiction was engorged with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with such periodic popular phenomena – for example the Swinging Sixties’ Superspy and Batmania booms or the recent trend for Vampire and/or Werewolf Boyfriends – there was a tremendous amount of momentary merit, lots of utter dross and a few irrefutable gems that would affect public tastes from then on.

Most importantly, once such surges have petered out there’s also generally a small cadre of frustrated devotees who mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad…

Following World War II the American family entertainment market – for which read comics, radio and the burgeoning television industry – became comprehensively enamoured of the clear-cut, simplistic sensibilities and easy, escapist solutions offered by the antiseptic anodyne branch of Tales of the Old West; already a firmly established favourite of paperback fiction, movie serials and feature films.

I’ve often pondered on how almost simultaneously a dark, bleak, nigh-nihilistic and oddly left-leaning Film Noir genre quietly blossomed alongside that wholesome revolution, seemingly for the cynical minority of entertainment intellectuals who somehow knew that returned veterans still hadn’t found a Land Fit for Heroes… but that’s a thought for another time and a different review.

Even though comicbooks had encompassed Western heroes from the very start – there were cowboy crusaders in the premier issues of both Action Comics and Marvel Comics – the post-war years saw a vast outpouring of anthology titles with new gun-slinging idols to replace the rapidly-dwindling supply of costumed Mystery Men, and true to formula, most of these pioneers ranged from transiently mediocre to outright appalling.

With every comic-book publisher turning hopeful eyes westward, it was natural that most of the historical figures would quickly find a home and of course facts counted little, as indeed they never had with cowboy literature…

Despite minor re-flowerings in the early 1970s and mid-1990s, for the longest of times Cowboy comics largely vanished from our funnybook pages: seemingly unable to command enough mainstream commercial support to survive the crushing competition of garish wonder-men and the furiously seductive futurescapes.

Europe and Britain also embraced the Sagebrush zeitgeist and produced some pretty impressive work, with France and Italy eventually making the genre their own by the end of the 1960s. They still make the best straight Western strips in the world…

Happily, however, an American revolution in comics retailing and print technologies at the end of the 20th century allowed fans to create and disseminate relatively inexpensive comicbooks of their own and, happier still, many of those fans are incredibly talented creators in other genres. A particularly impressive case in point is this captivating lost treasure originally published by independent creator-led outfit Mojo Press.

The brainchild of Richard Klaw (publisher, reviewer, essayist, writer, historian and self-confessed geek maven), the little outfit published some amazing and groundbreaking horror, fantasy, science fiction and Western graphic novels and prose books between 1994 and their much-lamented demise in 1999.

As revealed in Klaw’s informative Introduction ‘When Old is New and New Old’, Red Range was probably their most controversial release: an uncompromising adventure tale and deftly-disguised (a tad too much so, apparently) attack on contemporary racism and institutionalised bigotry astoundingly approached as an ultra-violent cowboy revenge yarn.

Originally published in stark black and white in 1999, Joe E. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s amazing unfinished odyssey has been remastered and adapted to full-colour (courtesy of Jorge Blanco & Jok and letterer Douglas Potter) and given a new lease of life in this sublime hardcover edition, just as America’s latest President seems set to return the nation to those days of implicit supremacism, casual segregation and wealth-based Jim Crow laws…

A Word of Warning: if your sensibilities and senses are liable to freak out at profoundly yet historically accurate scenes of violence or repeated use of the “N” word as used by drawn representations of murdering racist bastards in white sheets, don’t buy this book. Actually, do buy it; just don’t whine that you weren’t warned…

In Texas in the late 19th century a band of Klansmen are brutally torturing a black family who have had the temerity to buy land and plant crops. The ignorant butchers’ repugnant fun is mercilessly interrupted when a masked negro vigilante known as The Red Mask attacks, killing many of them and driving off their leader Batiste.

The unlikely avenger is too late to save the parents but does take their son Turon under his wing. As they ride to his hideout, the lone rider confides in his youthful new companion.

Caleb Range’s story is appallingly similar to the boy’s own recent tragedy. It’s probably one repeated hundreds of times every day in America since the Black Man was emancipated…

Back in town, Batiste recruits a specialist tracker and plenty more white men eager to teach coloureds their rightful place. Hunting down Red Mask the bigot again underestimates his quarry’s determination and facility with weapons…

Angry, frustrated and humiliated, Batiste gathers yet more men and sets out to end his nemesis forever. The relentless pursuit leads into the desert wastes and straight out of any semblance of rationality as Caleb and Turon survive one more cataclysmic battle before falling into a lost world of ancient tribes and ravenous dinosaurs with Batiste and his few surviving killers hard on their heels…

In this place however, the so-superior white men are seen as less than human by the indigenous humans: nothing more than prey and provender. Regrettably, they hold pretty much the same opinion regarding Caleb and Turon, who quickly discover they might not just be lost in space but also time…

To Be Continued…

Vivid, shocking, staggeringly exciting, ferociously uncompromising and yet often outrageously, laugh-out-loud funny, Red Range has both message and moral but never for a moment lets that stand in the way of telling a great story. Hopefully, this long-overlooked gem will get fair shake this time around…

Adding value and enlightenment, this opening chapter in a hopefully longer saga is augmented by ‘Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters: (A Sort of) Afterword by Stephen R. Bissette’ which offers some historical and social context to the proceedings and inside gen on creators Lansdale and Glanzman, as well as a potted history of the role of black people in western movies from 1920s star-turn Bill Pickett to Jamie Foxx in Django Unchained.

The bonus goodies continue with a silent monochrome masterpiece of action and bleak, black humour in ‘I Could Eat a Horse!’ (first seen in Wild West Show, 1996), with the artist displaying a firm grip of both killer slapstick and grim irony as Cowboy, Indian and other beasts go in search of meal, before Bissette rides us into the sunset with an erudite and fascinating trip down memory lane for “Pop Culture Cowpokes and Carnosaurs” with ‘A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs’

These fresh looks at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on those old bones, and cow-punching aficionados, fans of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that there’s a selection of range-riding rollercoaster thrills and moody mysteries still lurking in those hills and on that horizon…

What more could you possibly ask for?
Red Range: A Wild West Adventure © 1999-2017 Joe R. Lansdale. “I Could Eat a Horse” © 2017 Sam Glanzman. “When Old is New and New Old” © 2017 Richard Klaw. “Beneath the Valley of the Klan Busters” and “A Brief History of Cowboys & Dinosaurs” © 2017 Stephen R. Bissette. All rights reserved.

Red Range: A Wild West Adventure is scheduled for publication June 28th 2017 and is available for pre-order now.

Dargaud Presents Lieutenant Blueberry: Fort Navajo & Thunder in the West


By Charlier & Giraud, translated by Anthea Turner and Derek Hockridge (Egmont/Methuen)
ISBN: 978-0-41605-370-8 and 978-0-41605-370-X

Franco-Belgian comics have enjoyed a decades-long love affair with the mythos of the American West and responded with some of the most beautiful and exciting graphic narratives in the history of the medium. They have, however, had less success creating characters that have gone on to be global household names.

One that did has made that jump is Michel Charlier & Jean Giraud’s immortal bad-ass Blueberry…

Sadly, although many publishers have sporadically attempted to bring him to our thrill-starved shores, there’s no readily available complete catalogue (yet) of the quintessential antihero in the English language. Thus, this first of many forthcoming reviews with a brace of albums that are decades old, although they do still turn up in back-issue bins and in second hand or charity shops…

Jean-Michel Charlier is arguably Europe’s most important writer of realistic adventure strips.

Ever.

He was born in Liege, Belgium in 1924 and like so many groundbreaking comics creators, began as an artist, joining the staff of Spirou in September 1944, contributing aviation illustrations, and a strip about gliders co-produced with Flettner. In 1946 Charlier’s love affair with flying inspired him to co-create fighter-pilot strip Buck Danny, providing scripts for star turn artist Victor Hubinon.

Before long – and on the advice of prestigious senior illustrator Jijé – Charlier was scripting full time and expanding his portfolio with many other series and serials.

In 1951 he co-created historical series Belles Histoires de l’Oncle Paul which afforded dozens of major artists their big break over the years, and supplemented the series with other strips such as Kim Devil (art Gérald Forton), Jean Valhardi and Marc Dacier (both with artist Paape) and Thierry le Chevalier (with Carlos Laffond) as well as popular scouting series La Patrouille des Castors, illustrated by MiTacq.

In conjunction with Goscinny and Uderzo, Charlier founded the business and industry oriented commercial comics agency Edifrance after which Charlier and Goscinny edited the magazine Pistolin (1955-1958) before launching Pilote together in October 1959.

For the soon to be legendary periodical Charlier created

Tanguy and Laverdure (with Uderzo and later Jijé), Barbe-Rouge (with Hubinon) and Jacques le Gall (MiTacq). In 196, Charlier visited America he created arguably his most significant character – and Europe’s greatest Western comic – which would eventually be known as Blueberry.

In later years, the engaging antihero would support his own equally successful spin-off La Jeunesse de Blueberry (AKA Young Blueberry, illustrated by Colin Wilson) but Charlier never rested on his laurels, concocting further grittily realistic fare: historical biographies in collaboration with Hubinon (Surcouf, Jean Mermoz, and Tarawa) and Martial (Alain et Christine in Libre Junior, Rosine in Pistolin), Brice Bolt for Spirou with Aldoma Puig, Los Gringos with Victor de la Fuente and many more. He passed away in 1989.

Jean Henri Gaston Giraud was born in the suburbs of Paris on 8th May 1938. Raised by grandparents after his mother and father divorced in 1941, he began attending Institut des Arts Appliqués in 1955, becoming friends with Jean-Claude Mézières who, at 17, was already selling strips and illustrations to magazines such as Coeurs Valliants, Fripounet et Marisette and Spirou. Giraud apparently spent most of his college time drawing cowboy comics and left after a year.

In 1956 he travelled to Mexico, staying with his mother for eight months, before returning to France and a full-time career drawing comics, mostly Westerns such as Frank et Jeremie for Far West and King of the Buffalo, A Giant with the Hurons and others for Coeurs Valliants, all in a style based on French comics legend Joseph Gillain AKA “Jijé”.

Between 1959 and 1960 Giraud spent his National Service in Algeria, working on military service magazine 5/5 Forces Françaises before returning to civilian life as Jijé’s assistant in 1961, working on the master’s long-running (1954-1977) western epic Jerry Spring.

A year later, Giraud and Belgian writer Jean-Michel Charlier launched the serial Fort Navajo in Pilote #210. All too soon the ensemble feature threw forth a unique icon in the shabby shape of disreputable, rebellious Lieutenant Mike Blueberry who took over as the star and evolved into one of the most popular European strip characters of all time…

In 1963-1964, Giraud produced numerous strips for satire periodical Hara-Kiri and, keen to distinguish and separate the material from his serious day job, first coined his pen-name “Moebius”.

He didn’t use it again until 1975 when he joined Bernard Farkas, Jean-Pierre Dionnet and Philippe Druillet – all devout science fiction fans – as founders of a revolution in narrative graphic arts created by “Les Humanoides Associes”.

Their ground-breaking adult fantasy magazine Métal Hurlant utterly enraptured the comics-buying public and Giraud again wanted to utilise a discreet creative persona for the lyrical, experimental, soul-searching material he was increasingly driven to produce: series such as The Airtight Garage, The Incal and the mystical, dreamy flights of sheer fantasy contained in Arzach

To further separate his creative twins, Giraud worked his inks with a brush whilst the dedicated futurist Moebius rendered his lines with pens. After a truly stellar career which saw him become a household name, both Giraud and Moebius passed away in March 2012.

Fort Navajo and Thunder in the West were originally released in Britain in 1977 by Euro-publishing conglomerate

Egmont/Methuen; the first two of four full-colour albums which utterly failed to capture the attention of a comics-reading public besotted in equal amounts by Science Fiction in general, Star Wars in specific and new anthology 2000AD in the main…

It’s a great shame: if the translated series had launched even a year earlier, I might not be whining about lack of familiarity with a genuine classic of genre comics…

The magic begins in Fort Navajo as clean-cut West Point graduate Lieutenant Craig takes a break from his dusty journey. The stagecoach stopover is just another town on the border between Arizona and New Mexico but leads to his involvement in a brutal battle sparked by a cheating card-sharp. After the gun-smoke clears the military paragon is appalled to discover that the quick-shooting cad at the centre of the chaos is a fellow officer stationed at his new posting…

Further outraged after Lieutenant Mike Blueberry inadvertently insults Craig’s father – a decorated general – the pair acrimoniously part company but are soon reunited on the trail after the scoundrel’s horse dies even as Craig’s stagecoach encounters the remnants of settlers slaughtered by marauding Indians…

Dying survivor Stanton informs them that his son has been taken by Apaches but Craig’s vow to hunt them down is overruled by Blueberry and the stage’s crew and passengers. Incensed, the young fool sets off in pursuit of the attackers on his own. Despite his better judgement, Blueberry trails him, cursing all the while…

After using an arsenal of canny tricks to repeatedly save Craig from his suicidal notions of heroism, the pair are picked up by a relief column from Fort Navajo led by Major Bascom: a man who sincerely believes the only good Indians are dead ones…

Ignoring his orders and the advice of his officers, Bascom decides to pursue the kidnappers and compounds his insubordination by attacking a group of women, children and old men. The massacre would have been total had not Blueberry “accidentally” given the wrong bugle calls and called the cavalry back too soon. Learning quickly, Lieutenant Craig covertly assists the rogue in calling back the troops…

In the aftermath, Bascom demonstrates how unstable he is by trying to execute Blueberry without convening a court martial and goes almost ballistic when Craig prevents him by quoting chapter and verse of the military code…

Frustrated on all sides, Bascom can only turn the column back to Fort Navajo and plan revenge on the puppies that have baulked his bloodlust. Commanding officer Colonel Dickson is a reasonable man, however, and refuses all Bascom’s entreaties. He even tries to broker a pow-wow and new treaty with great chief Cochise for the return of the kidnapped boy and to forestall the war Bascom so fervently desires. It is a valiant effort doomed to failure. The Apaches were not responsible for the butchery and abduction at all. The true culprits were Mescaleros from across the Mexican border…

Tragically, when Dickson is bitten by a rattlesnake, Bascom seizes command and uses the peace talks to capture Cochise and his delegation. In a flurry of action the aged warrior breaks free and escapes to his waiting armies: determined to make the two-faced soldiers pay for their treachery by bringing blood and vengeance to all of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico…

The brooding tension resumes in Thunder in the West as affronted tribal chiefs fiercely debate how to liberate the rest of their hostage peace-delegation before their own war-hungry followers start a bloodbath no one can win.

At Fort Navajo Blueberry and Craig ponder the coming dawn and are on hand when a tortured settler arrives to warn them every messenger sent for reinforcements has perished and the Apaches have taken dozens of new prisoners. The weary soul then delivers an ultimatum and final offer from Cochise: safe passage for the soldiers to Tucson or Albuquerque in return for the captive Indians in their custody.

Bascom, clearly beyond all reason, instead threatens to execute the prisoners…

Desperate Blueberry counters with a tactic to forestall the growing certainty of all-out war: he will attempt to cross the siege lines and reach Tucson for reinforcements but before he can start, a fellow officer – half-breed scout lieutenant Crowe – acts precipitately and frees the Indians from the stockade.

Whilst Bascom raves and blusters, Blueberry takes off anyway, undertaking an epic journey through hostile territory and past hundreds of warriors hungry for blood, not just to call for more troops but to get snakebite antidote for Dickson so that he can end the escalating madness…

Capping peril-filled days of fight and flight, the battered cavalryman successfully crosses searing desert only to stumble into a gang of Mexican bandits who almost end his voyage and life until he turns their own greed against them…

Finally, Mike rides into Tucson only to find the town all but deserted as thousands of Apaches have been approaching the outskirts of town for hours…

Frantically batting his way out of the trap Mike, wearily retraces his route back to Fort Navajo. The citadel is deserted except for Crowe, who tells him that after a catastrophic battle he negotiated a truce which allowed the white survivors a means of escape. Now the half-breed has a new plan. He and Blueberry will track down the Mescalero renegades who truly started the war by kidnapping young Stanton…

A feat of staggering bravado, the audacious plan succeeds, but as Blueberry outdistances the outraged renegades and thunders through the mountains with the rescued boy on his horse, he realises Crowe is missing and must go back for him…

To Be Continued…

Although perhaps a tad traditional for modern tastes and nowhere near as visually or narratively sophisticated as it was to become, this epic opening to the saga of the immortal Blueberry is an engaging yarn and all-action romp: a stunning reaffirmation of the creative powers of Charlier & Giraud and potent testimony to the undying appeal and inspiration of the Western genre.
© 1965, 1966 Dargaud Editeur. Text these editions © 1977 by Egmont Publishing Limited, London. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex volume 2: Guns of Vengeance


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Luke Ross, Dylan Teague, Val Semeiks, Phil Noto, Tony DeZuñiga, David Michael Beck, Paul Gulacy & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-1249-0

Confident enough to apply fantasy concepts to this grittiest of human heroes, the assembled string of all-star artists working with scripters Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti on this recent incarnation of Jonah Hex deftly blended a blackly ironic streak of wit with a sanguine view of morality and justice to produce some of the most accessible and enjoyable comics fiction available from the period.

In this collection, reprinting issues #7-12 of the comic book series from 2006, six stand-alone sagas serve to show the ravaged and determinedly dissolute bounty hunter yet again facing the worst that humanity can offer, and even includes a deliciously wry face off with the devil himself…

Illustrated by Luke Ross, the red-handed slaughter opens in Blood Creek, Texas as Hex genteelly crashes a matrimonial affair in search of an absconded felon, only to witness a scene of callous catastrophe perpetrated by a jilted former suitor and his army of hirelings. Resolves to teach the killers their final lesson to assuage the bride’s loss, even Hex’s apocalyptic brand of vengeance-taking is not enough for her after enduring ‘One Wedding and Fifty Funerals’

The lone gunman is usually able to handle everything the universe can throw at him with the same irascible aplomb, but when an old friend comes looking for help Hex realises far too late that he’s on the wrong side of a fight and helping a monster in ‘Never Turn a Blind Eye’ (with art by Dylan Teague, Val Semeiks & Dan Green)…

Another raw exposure of the inner core of righteousness that drives Hex – whatever his aspect and actions might hint to the contrary – underpins the eerie ‘Gettin’ Un-Haunted’ (rendered by legendary Hex co-creator Tony DeZuñiga).

Here a chance and tragic encounter with a little girl results in years of heartbreak until the scarred shootist devises a cunning scheme to exorcise his demons and lay some mutual ghosts at the same time…

It’s a short ride from guilty misery to Grand Guignol as the misshapen manhunter fetches up in Black Swamp, Louisiana, forced to deal with a family of people-stealing cannibals (and worse). Although they intended him to be ‘Gator Bait’ (Phil Noto art), the ornery Galahad has a few ideas of his own on the subject of making the punishment fit the crime…

Whilst displaying the addictive thread of black humour that runs through these stories Grey, Palmiotti and inspired draughtsman David Michael Beck reunite the surly bounty hunter with ensorcelled Spirit of Justice and sometime ally El Diablo for a fun time at ‘The Hangin’ Tree’.

Despite being almost murdered by a troop of circus freaks, the ghostly avenger’s unsubtle prodding of Hex convinces him to go gunning for a pack of crazed pistoleros intent on eradicating the perfidious performers…

Concluding this odyssey of ordeals is a sub-arctic argosy ranging through the depths of a Utah winter. When Hex sets out to save a colony of Mormons from prejudice and maniacal bounty killers, he soon discovers that yet again few things are simply black and white in the ‘Bloodstained Snow’ (limned by Paul Gulacy): a dark confection of outrage and revenge which is conceptually the most adult and complex in this book.

With covers by Giuseppe Camuncoli & Lorenzo Ruggiero, Beck, DeZuñiga, Noto, Art Thibert and Ross, Guns of Vengeance is an explosively grim, yet wickedly funny collection starring the very best Western anti-hero ever created: offering a sly blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or top-notch excitement will want to miss.
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

The Dead Rider: Crown of Souls


By Kevin Ferrara (Dark Horse)
ISBN: 978- 1-61655-750-8

Westerns are very much in the eye of the beholder. Some of my very favourites are The Seven Samurai, The Thirteenth Warrior and Outland …and not a Six-gun or Stetson in the bunch.

I think that it’s all about tone and themes and timbre; motivation and resolution, rather than just slavish attention to genre forms. Trappings and locations are not as important as the Why and the How…

A fascinating case in point is Dead Rider. Conceived and crafted by writer, artist and historian Kevin Ferrara (Aliens/Predator, Green Lantern, Creepy) it offers a miasmic merging of classical EC-styled tongue-in-cheek horror with grittily familiar cowboy themes and locales, resulting in a beautifully rendered if somewhat meandering yarn about true love, magical misery and vengeance forestalled, but never escaped…

Originally released as two issues the saga came to an abrupt ending before concluding, but in this graphic album the entire tale is finally told…

Near the frontier town of Magruder, Nevada in the 1890s a vile owlhoot calling himself the Cobra is hunting a man. Having successfully diverted a similarly employed cavalry troop into a wild goose chase, the villain relishes the prospect of tackling the legendary gunman known as the Dead Rider. He has no idea what he is about to confront, or that his prospective prey is being watched over by an Indian shaman with much more than skin in the game…

After brutalising and terrorising the entire township, Cobra secures the lead he needs and rides off to his date with destiny whilst the shaman rushes to warn the much sought after rider who currently resides in an old iron mine. The décor doesn’t trouble the wanted man much. After all, he’s been an ambulatory rotting corpse for years now and physical feeling is long-forgotten luxury…

Once, Jacob Bierce was a gentle, loving man whose only desire was to wed his adored paramour Sarah. However, due a string of cruel accidents and malign misfortunes, Jacob fell under the power of a scheming and manipulative Bog Witch who made him immortal by turning him into a walking corpse. The downside was that he retained his mind and conscience, even during those appalling and frequently recurring moments when the sorceress possessed his body to go on killing sprees…

Thus the revenant’s formidable reputation, the authorities pragmatic despatching of deranged General Cavanaugh and a troop of soldiers to capture the notorious Dead Rider and Cobra’s obsession with immortalising his own reputation by killing the zombie fugitive…

Now all the disparate players are converging for a final showdown, but the Witch has one last eldritch card to play: she has been collecting the last vestiges of the dead to build a potent artefact known as the Crown of Souls but has not fully appreciated the power of true friendship, love from beyond the grave and the obsessive nature of glory-crazed military men…

Although the plot contains some gaping inconsistencies and the dialogue is often uninspired, The Dead Rider is rendered in a spectacularly lush manner reminiscent of the best of Graham Ingels, Bernie Wrightson, Scott Hampton or Thomas Yeates and fairly rockets along, offering plenty of action and wry humour as well as a classic tragedy-laced horror hero that would certainly score well with today’s movie-going genre aficionados.

Fast, fun and fabulous, this turbulent tome comes with a Gallery of sketches, roughs, covers and unused art pages complete with accompanying commentary and is a sure-fire guilty pleasure for fans looking for quality art and a tale outside the tried-&-true comicbook mainstream.
© 2007, 2008, 2015 Kevin Schnaper. All rights reserved.

The Bluecoats volume 6: Bronco Benny


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Erica Jeffrey (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-146-4

The glamour of the American Experience has fascinated Europeans virtually since the actual days of owlhoots and gunfighters. Hergé was an absolute devotee, and the spectrum of memorable comics ranges from Italy’s Tex Willer to such Franco-Belgian classics as Blueberry and Lucky Luke, and even to colonial dramas such as Pioneers of the New World or Milo Manara & Hugo Pratt’s Indian Summer.

Les Tuniques Bleues began at the end of the 1960s, created by Louis “Salvé” Salvérius & Raoul Colvin – who has solo-written every best-selling volume since. The strip was created to replace Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to rival comic Pilote, and his rapidly-rendered replacement swiftly became one of the most popular bande dessinée series on the Continent.

Salvé was a cartoonist of the Gallic big-foot/big-nose humour style, and when he died suddenly in 1972 his replacement, Willy “Lambil” Lambillotte slowly introduced a more realistic – although still broadly comedic – illustrative manner. Lambil is Belgian-born (in 1936) and – after studying Fine Art in college – joined publishing giant Dupuis as a letterer in 1952.

Born in 1938, scripter Raoul Cauvin is also Belgian and before joining Dupuis’ animation department in 1960 studied Lithography. He soon discovered his true calling as a comedy writer and began a glittering and prolific career at Spirou.

In addition to Bluecoats he has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the series are Sergeant Cornelius Chesterfield and Corporal Blutch: a pair of worthy fools in the manner of Laurel and Hardy, hapless, ill-starred US cavalrymen posted to the wild frontier and various key points of mythic America.

The original format was single-page gags about an Indian-plagued Wild West fort, but with the second volume ‘Du Nord au Sud’ (North and South) the sad-sack soldiers went back East to fight in the American Civil War (this tale was rewritten in the 18th album ‘Blue rétro’ to describe how the chumps were drafted into the military during the war). All subsequent adventures, despite ranging far beyond the traditional environs of America and taking in a lot of genuine and thoroughly researched history, are set within the timeframe of the Secession conflict.

Blutch is your average whinging little-man-in-the street: work-shy, mouthy, devious and especially critical of the army and its inept commanders. Ducking, diving, even deserting whenever he can, he’s you or me – except sometimes he’s quite smart and heroic if no other easier option is available.

Chesterfield is a big burly man; a career soldier who has passionately bought into all the patriotism and esprit-de-corps of the Military. He is brave, never shirks his duty and wants to be a hero. He also loves his cynical little pal. They quarrel like a married couple, fight like brothers but simply cannot agree on the point and purpose of the horrendous war they are trapped in…

Bronco Benny is the sixth translated Cinebook album (chronologically the 16th French volume) and opens with our surly stalwarts waiting at a rail depot for much-needed fresh materiel…

As usual the war has stalled due to lack of crucial resources. This time the dearth is horses to ride, but when the train carrying the replacement mounts unloads, what Chesterfield and Blutch find is a shambles which makes them want to laugh and cry…

The smugly-isolated General Staff quickly retire to their comfortable residence and are soon back in high-level conference. Callously obnoxious Young Turk Captain Stillman posits a most practical – if appallingly unethical – solution to the equine stalemate: don’t pay the soldiers until after the forthcoming battle and use the money to purchase mounts from horse traders beyond the western mountains. To make sure the sale and transport goes according to plan the Captain intends sending the smallest military detail possible, but they will be accompanied by Bronco Benny, the greatest horse-breaker in the world…

Next day, luckless Blutch and Chesterfield set out on the suicide mission they have been volunteered for with strong, silent Benny in attendance. They are astounded by how easily they pass through Confederate pickets and defences. They also have no idea that the enemy is well aware of the plan and is allowing them expedited passage…

Travelling the arid rocky region to the traders’ ranch our heroes are surprised when a band of Indians attack. The Bluecoats only escape through sheer dumb luck and after rendezvousing with the mustang-hunters discover the natives are in uproar because the horsemen have captured a magnificent white stallion the Indians revere as a god…

It’s love at first sight for Benny. He is utterly smitten with the mustang dubbed “Traveller” and the next few days fade to a bruised blur as he strives to break the mighty wonder horse. Sadly, after he does, the true nature of the horse-traders is exposed and Blutch and Chesterfield realise they’ve been suckered yet again…

However, even after being deprived of cash, horses and dignity and left to die at the hands of the furious Indians, Sarge has a plan to fix things and, whilst it doesn’t exactly work as expected, it does get him and his pals back to Union lines in time to witness one more horrific, pointlessly stupid battle and subsequent slaughter with no apparent winner…

This is another hugely amusing savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences. Historically authentic, always in good taste despite its uncompromising portrayal of violence, the attitudes expressed by the down-to-earth pair never make battle anything but arrant folly and, like the hilarious yet insanely tragic war-memoirs of Spike Milligan, these are comedic tales whose very humour makes the occasional moments of shocking verity doubly powerful and hard-hitting.

Fun, informative, beautifully realised and eminently readable, Bluecoats is the sort of war-story that appeals to the best, not worst, of the human spirit.
© Dupuis 1980 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2012 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Graveslinger


By Shannon Eric Denton, Jeff Mariotte, John Cboins, Nima Sorat & various (IDW Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-60010-364-3

The iconography and intrinsic philosophy of the western is so strong that it will readily mix-&-match with any other narrative genre.

Space Cowboys? Done.

Murder mystery? War?

Culture clash; political thriller; buddy movie; coming-of-age-drama; romance; epic quest? All covered in landmark cowboy books and/or film tales.

However – probably due to the brutal nature and subtext of the Wild West mythos – the most effective genre-mash-ups have always involved broad humour or supernatural shock.

Intriguing case in point is this short, sharp saga written by Shannon Eric Denton (The Revenant) and Jeff Mariotte (Desperadoes), beguilingly brought to un-life by illustrators John Cboins and Nima Sorat, with the whole chilling confection coloured by Chris Wood & Carlos Badilla with lettering courtesy of Ed Dukeshire.

Originally released in 2009 as a 4-issue miniseries, the tale is by no means an original one, but is stylishly undertaken (that’s a freebie from a veteran punslinger, folks) and rattles along at a breakneck pace to its gory conclusion…

The drama begins in ‘The Devil’s Playground’ as a strangely gaunt man closes in on a night-time campfire. With little ceremony the top-hatted old timer despatches the man-like things basking in the fire’s glow and dumps them unceremoniously in the coffin on the wagon pulled by his trusty mule Lucifer

In the growing daylight Frank Timmons meets some riders whilst crossing spartan cattle country and learns that a range war is brewing between the independent ranchers and merciless cattle-baron Harvey Newell.

Frank has no time for their petty problems as he is involved in a relentless pursuit. He used to be the undertaker at Gila Flats Territorial Prison and, after a recent incident, has been tasked with tracking down some very dangerous escapees…

As Timmons heads on, one of the cowboys joins him. Will Saylor already suspects something nasty is occurring and, since the manhunter’s course is in a direct line for his own stead – where his wife and daughters are waiting – Will thinks he ought to be heading home…

As they near the ranch Will’s worst suspicions are confirmed. Timmons is no normal bounty killer and the things threatening his family stopped breathing a long time ago. They also seem immune to his bullets and crave living human flesh…

The old man does have a few advantages of his own, however, and before long has the dead men on the run and the women-folk back with the horrified Will…

The hunter’s problems grow in ‘The Undertaker’s Lament’ as Frank shares a few more unwholesome truths with Will, even as miles distant, the bulk of the risen dead Timmons has been following introduce themselves to local tyrant Newell.

Timmons was not a good man when he worked at Gila Flats: abusing his position for profit and living the high life with a local woman named Dorothy. Things started to go bad in 1878 when Frank was cursed by hardened killer Bart Bevard as he fought the noose around his neck. They then got much worse when Frank desecrated the corpse of Mexican witch-man El Brujo to steal the shaman’s fancy amulet.

That night 117 corpses dug themselves out of the Boneyard and went on a ravenous killing spree, slaughtering an entire town… including Dorothy…

And that’s when something truly diabolical spoke to Frank: offering him a deal he could not refuse. Hell wanted its escaped souls back and, if Frank delivered them. he might be reunited with Dorothy…

As Frank and Will reach the local town to spread a warning, they are caught in a lethal ambush. However it isn’t Bevard’s corpse gang but Newell’s bully boys gunning for them. Faced with ‘The Good, the Bad, & the Undead’ Frank needs to make a quick decision about temporarily abandoning his unholy mission…

After an horrific gun battle he manages to convince a few cowed survivors to join him in a raid on Newell’s ranch for a showdown with the human monster before his own final apocalyptic confrontation with Bevard and ‘The Malevolent Six’ zombies he still commands…

And when the shooting stops Frank and Lucifer the mule head for the sunset, painfully aware that they still have 107 more soiled souls to send to the inferno before they can rest…

Simple, straightforward, eerily evocative and leavened with just the right amount of gallows humour, Graveslinger was quickly optioned for eventual movie glory – although to me it smacks more of numerous TV episodes rather than 120-odd minutes of supernatural shoot-outs – but the original comicbook inspiration has all but vanished from sight, despite its welcoming premise, solid action ethic and the vast gallery of guest art (three dozen potent and powerful pieces by the likes of Adam Archer, Bloodworth, Francesco Francavilla, Michael Geiger, Phil Noto, Tom Mandrake and others) that came with the collected edition.

If you’re in the mood for spooky six-gun thrills, Graveslinger is well worth tracking down in either printed or digital editions.
© 2009 Shannon Eric Denton and Jeff Mariotte. All rights reserved

Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise


By John Albano, Michael Fleischer, Tony DeZuñiga, Doug Wildey, Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, José Luis García-López & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2757-9

Western stories are shaped by an odd duality. The genre can almost be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, as typified by Zane Grey stories and heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff.

That kind of cowboy tale- grimy, gritty, excessively dark – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Jean-Michel Charlier’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer which gradually made their way into US culture through the films of Sam Peckinpah and Sergio Leone. Jonah Hex is the USA’s greatest example of the latter sort…

DC (or National Periodicals as it then as) had generated a stable of clean-cut gun-slingers since the collapse of the super-hero genre in 1949, with such dashing – and highly readable – luminaries as Johnny Thunder, The Trigger Twins, Nighthawk, Matt Savage and dozens of others in a marketplace that seemed insatiable in its voracious hunger for chaps in chaps. However, all things end, and by the early sixties the sagebrush stalwarts had dwindled to a few venerable properties.

As the 1960s closed, thematic changes in the cinematic Cowboy filtered through to a comics industry suffering its second super-hero sundown in twenty years. Although a critical success, the light-hearted Western series Bat Lash couldn’t garner a solid following, but DC, desperate for a genre readers would warm to, retrenched and revived an old title, gambling once again on heroes who were no longer simply boy scouts with six-guns.

All-Star Western #1 was released with an August/September 1970 cover date, filled with Pow-Wow Smith reprints and became an all-new anthology with its second bi-monthly issue. The magazine was allocated a large number of creative all-stars, including Robert Kanigher, Neal Adams, Gray Morrow, Al Williamson, Gil Kane, Angelo Torres and Dick Giordano, working on such strips as Outlaw!, Billy the Kid and the cult sleeper hit El Diablo, which combined shoot-’em-up shenanigans with supernatural chills, in deference to the real hit genre-type that saved comics in those dark days: horror comics…

It wasn’t until the tenth issue and introduction of a grotesquely disfigured, irascible bounty hunter created by writer John Albano and Tony DeZuñiga that the company found its greatest and most enduring Western warrior.

This superb collection of the garish gunman’s early appearances has been around for a few years, with no apparent sign of a sequel yet, so consider this a heartfelt attempt to generate a few sales and more interest…

Our star is the very model of the modern anti-hero. Jonah Hex first appeared in All-Star Comics #10, a coarse and callous bounty hunter clad in shabbily battered Confederate Grey tunic and hat, half his face lost to some hideous past injury; a brutal thug little better than the scum he hunted – and certainly a man to avoid…

Collecting key stories from All-Star Western #10, Weird Western Tales #14, 17, 22, 26, 29, 30 and Jonah Hex #2 and 4 (ranging from March 1972 to September 1977), the grisly gunplay begins with Albano & DeZuñiga’s ‘Welcome to Paradise’ which introduced the character and his world in a powerful action thriller, with a subtle sting of sentimentality that anyone who has seen the classic western “Shane” cannot fail to appreciate.

From the first bullets blazing, blistering set-up Albano was constantly hinting at the tortured depths hidden behind Hex’s hellishly scarred visage and deadly proficiency. With the next issue the comic had been re-titled Weird Western Tales (aligning it with the company’s highly successful horror/mystery books) and the adventures continually plumbed the depths oh human malice and depravity…

From the very start the series sought to redress some of the most unpalatable motifs of old style cowboy literature and any fan of films like Soldier Blue or Little Big Man or familiar with Dee Brown’s iconoclastic book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee will feel a grim sense of vicarious satisfaction and redress at most of the stories here.

There’s also a huge degree of world-weary cynicism that wasn’t to be found in other comics until well past the Watergate Scandal, when America as whole lost its social and political innocence…

From Weird Western #14, ‘Killers Die Alone!’ – by Albano & DeZuñiga – is a vicious tear jerker of a tale where Hex’s only friend valiantly dies to save him the vengeance of killers who blame the bounty hunter for their brother’s death. There is then a reckoning that is the stuff of nightmares…

‘The Hangin’ Woman’ (WWT #17) is a classy thriller wherein Hex runs afoul of a sadistic harridan who rules her hometown with hemp and hot lead before meeting an ending both ironic and much-deserved…

It was left to new writer Michael Fleisher (assisted at first by Russell Carley) to reveal Hex’s secrets, beginning with Weird Western Tales #22’s ‘Showdown at Hard Times’. A chance meeting in a stagecoach put a cabal of ex-Confederate soldiers on the trail of their ex-comrade for some unspecified earlier betrayal and it inevitably ended in a six-gun bloodbath, whilst creating an ominous returning nemesis for the grizzled gunslinger.

Train-robbers were the bad guys in the superb traditionally-informed caper ‘Face-Off with the Gallagher Boys!’ scripted by Fleischer and illustrated by the inimitable Doug Wildey, after which more details of Jonah’s chequered past are revealed in #29’s ‘Breakout at Fort Charlotte’ limned by Noly Panaligan. It was the first chapter of a two-part extravaganza that gorily concluded in #30 in ‘The Trial’ (illustrated by George Moliterni) as a battalion of Confederate veterans and former comrades-in-arms passed judgement on the man they believed to be the worst traitor in the history of the South…

Eventually Hex graduated from Weird Western Tales into his own solo title and the final brace of tales in this primal primer are both drawn by the magnificent José Luis García-López. In ‘The Lair of the Parrot!’, Fleischer has the doom-drenched wanderer sucked into a scheme designed by US Secret Service agent Ned Landon to infiltrate the gang of flamboyant Mexican bandit and border raider El Papagayo. Hex is none to happy when he finally realises Landon has been playing both sides for personal gain and left the bounty hunter to the brigand’s tender mercies after framing him for murder in Texas…

The tale continues in ‘The Day of the Chameleon!’ as a disguise artist steals Hex’s identity to perpetrate even more brazen crimes at the behest of a rich and powerful man determined to destroy bounty hunter at all costs…

Happily Jonah has unsuspected allies determined to save him from the villain and his own prideful stubborn nature…

With a cover gallery by DeZuñiga, Luis Dominguez and García-López, this splendid selection of uncanny exploits proves Jonah Hex is the most unique and original character in cowboy comics: darkly comedic, riotously rowdy, chilling and cathartically satisfying. His saga is a Western for those who despise the form whilst being the perfect modern interpretation of a great storytelling tradition. No matter what your reading preference, this is a collection you don’t want to miss.
© 1972-1975, 1977, 2010 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Galveston


By Johanna Stokes, Ross Richie, Todd Herman & various (Boom! Studios)
ISBN: 978-1-93450-668-4

At the beginning of the 19th century, Jean Baptiste Lafitte was a French privateer based in New Orleans – and later Barataria Bay – who famously turned down a huge bribe from the British and instead stood beside the Americans during the War of 1812. His alliance with General Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans is the stuff of American mythology.

When the victorious Americans then started cracking down on piracy, Jean and his older brother Pierre became spies for the Spaniards during the Mexican War of Independence (1810-1821), relocating to Galveston Island, Texas and continuing their trade as freebooting privateers targeting Central American ports.

They established a pirate colony called Campeche to facilitate their maritime activities. Jean died – or at least dropped from sight – sometime around 1823.

Jim Bowie is more myth than man. Born in Kentucky around 1796, he was pioneer, frontiersman, law officer, land speculator and quintessential warrior. After accruing wealth and a certain reputation in New Orleans, he eventually relocated to Texas (whilst it was still part of Mexico), married and settled down.

Of all the legends surrounding him the two truest are his proficiency with the lethal “Bowie knife” (created from the fearless fighter’s design by bladesmith James Black) and that he died in Texas at the Battle of the Alamo in 1836.

With such a historic pedigree and so little verifiable fact, it’s perfectly natural that somebody should place these two bellicose American icons together, and that’s exactly what scripter Johanna Stokes (with input from Ross Richie, Tom Peyer & Mark Rahner) and illustrator Todd Herman – ably assisted by colourists Digikore Studios and Andres Lozano and letterer Marshall Dillon – have done in this light-hearted action-romp which is as much buddy/road movie as pirate yarn or western…

Originally released as a 4-issue miniseries in 2009, Galveston begins in the Gulf of Mexico in 1817, where the infamous Jean Lafitte’s crew are trying to kill him. It’s not personal: they simply heard that he’s hidden a huge stash of gold donated by the Emperor Napoleon for helping him escape from France.

Lafitte’s only ally is a wiry American he’d recently befriended: a man named Bowie…

The greed-inciting gold story was circulated by Cyrus Wesley, an old acquaintance from New Orleans and no friend of the pirate captain…

After escaping certain doom through quick-wittedness and a certain amount of chicanery, Lafitte brings Bowie to the prate colony he built in Galveston, introducing him to the glories of the Maison Rouge and the light of his life: a fiery tongued and ferociously independent woman named Madeline Ragaud

She seems welcoming but also brings news of a ship full of spies masquerading as traders. All too soon Bowie is experiencing first hand how his pirate pal deals with real threats to his people…

A bigger worry is Wesley. Acting on behalf of vengeful Louisiana Governor Claiborne, the old enemy has brought a small army of bought-&-paid-for “lawmen” into the shady new town, ready to deal with Lafitte on the slightest pretext. A man of absolutely no principles, Cyrus is, however, quite prepared to let the mission slide… if Lafitte gives him Napoleon’s gold…

It would be a sound bargain if there actually was any bullion, but Lafitte swears all he got for his services was a couple of ornamental cannon. They don’t even work…

Temporarily escaping his problems, the wily pirate accompanies Bowie on his own mission to set up trading ties with the Commanches, but Cyrus’ threat to harm Madeline lingers, prompting Jean to bicker with his buddy and storm off in a fury. By the time Jean gets back to Galveston the settlement is in flames and Wesley is ensconced aboard a warship in the bay…

It’s time for old war-hero Lafitte to rally his piratical troops for a showdown, but he might be less fired up if he knew that his aggravating paramour has despatched a message to even the odds. Hopefully Madeline’s young courier can find Bowie and his Indian friends before it’s too late…

Culminating in a classic and epic underdog vs. bad guys showdown and delivering a marvellously traditional twist in the tale, this rowdy, raucous riot of fun is a sheer delight all lovers of straightforward, no-nonsense matinee thrills.
© 2009 Boom Entertainment Inc. and Johanna Stokes. All rights reserved.

Zorro: Matanzas


By Don McGregor, Mike Mayhew, Sam Parsons & John Costanza (Dynamite Entertainment)
ISBN: 978-1-60690-147-2

One the earliest masked heroes and still phenomenally popular throughout the world, “El Zorro, The Fox” was originally devised by jobbing writer Johnston McCulley in 1919 for a 5-part prose serial entitled ‘The Curse of Capistrano’. He debuted in All-Story Weekly for August 6th, running until 6th September. The part-work was subsequently published by Grossett & Dunlap in 1924 as The Mark of Zorro and further reissued in 1959 and 1998 by MacDonald & Co. and Tor respectively.

Famously, Hollywood royalty Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford read the serial in All-Story on their honeymoon and immediately optioned the adventure as the first film release from their new production company/studio United Artists.

The Mark of Zorro was a global movie sensation in 1920 and for years after, and New York-based McCulley subsequently re-tailored his creation to match the so-different filmic incarnation. This Caped Crusader aptly fitted the burgeoning genre that would soon be peopled by the likes of The Shadow, Doc Savage and The Spider.

Rouben Mamoulian’s 1940 filmic remake of The Mark of Zorro further ingrained the Fox into the world’s psyche and, as the prose exploits continued in a variety of publications, Dell began a comicbook version in 1949.

When Walt Disney Studios began a hugely popular Zorro TV show in 1957 (78 half-hour episodes and four 60 minute specials before cancellation in 1961), the ongoing comicbook series was swiftly redesigned to capitalise on it. The media corporation began a decades-long strip incarnation of “their” version of the character in various quarters of the world.

This series and later iterations also resulted in comics and strips all over Europe from Disney and Marvel in the USA. During the 1990s, Topps Comics spearheaded Zorro’s return courtesy of Don McGregor & Mike Mayhew which led to a short-lived newspaper strip (illustrated by Thomas Yeates) and also incidentally and memorably introducing a salacious “bad-girl” sidekick in the unwisely-clad form of Lady Rawhide

And there were more movies, this time with an actual Spaniard playing the lead role (Antonio Banderas, in case you were wondering…)

In 2008 Dynamite Entertainment reintroduced the Fox in new yarns by Matt Wagner and as part of the package excavated this lost tale from the Topps iteration: an unpublished adventure by McGregor & Mayhew, with colours by Sam Parsons and letters by industry veteran John Costanza.

Zorro: Mantanzas has a chequered history. Part of a longer storyline begun during McGregor & Mayhew’s run on the Topps Comic in the 1990s, the tale was only completed in 2010 for the Dynamite run and released as 4-issue miniseries before being collected as a trade paperback and later an eBook. For all that, however, the lost episode offers a passionate and sophisticated portrayal of the quintessential champion risking his own security and happiness to thwart a macabre and complex villain: a struggle rendered even more appealing by the magnificent illustration of Mayhew and Parsons.

For the uninitiated: Don Diego de la Vega is the foppish son of a grand house in old California when it was a Spanish Possession, who used the masked persona of Señor Zorro (the Fox) to right wrongs, defend the weak and oppressed – particularly the pitifully maltreated natives and Indians – and thwart the schemes of a succession of military leaders and the colonial Governor determined to milk the populace of the growing township of Los Angeles for all they had.

Whenever Zorro struck he left his mark – a letter “Z” carved into walls, doors, faces…

Diego has a whole support structure in place. Although in this iteration his stiff-necked Hildalgo father is unaware of his double life the secret hero has a number of assistants who do. The most important is Bernardo (a deaf-mute manservant) and Jose of the Cocopahs – a native chief who often acts as stableman, decoy and body-double for the Masked Avenger. Diego also occasionally employs a retired, reformed one-eyed pirate named Bardoso to act as his spy amongst townsfolk and outlaws…

The settlement is basking in unaccustomed liberty after Zorro’s overthrow of the military governor, unaware that their new Regency Administrator Lucien Machete is a sadistic fiend with a nasty line in prosthetic weapons nursing a rabid grudge against Zorro – the man who made his replacement limb necessary…

The villain has struck up a friendship with Diego’s father Don Alejandro; an increasingly frustrated grandee who finds his son’s unseemly and unmanly behaviour more and more inexplicable and intolerable.

Infuriatingly, Machete is not talking advantage of the familial rift as ploy; he just likes the old man whilst despising his foppish son, blithely oblivious that the soft poltroon is the black-clad avenger who has thwarted his previous malevolent depredations…

Zorro knows – but cannot prove – that Machete’s credentials are forged and his claims to act as the Spanish King’s official representative are false. The Fox urgently seeks to expose the impostor before whatever vile plot he fosters can be completed. Thus he cannot let anything distract him…

The drama unfolds after Don Alejandro and Lucien attend the Matanza: an annual festival where the young men show off their strength and manhood by ceremonially butchering cattle and other livestock in a gory display of horsemanship and bloodletting. Diego has naturally declined to attend or participate, preferring to surreptitiously watch Machete.

He is wise to do so, for the maniac has malicious plans to sabotage the event with a new addition to his arm’s arsenal…

Taking up position above the killing grounds, Zorro and Bernardo have a perfect position to observe proceedings but their keen surveillance is disrupted by a huge bear attracted to the site by the smell of blood.

Its attack is devastating and leaves the secret champions battling for their lives. By the time they can again turn their attention to the Matanza, Lucien has done his dirty work: good men are dead or maimed and an horrific stampede is underway. Moreover, in the chaos personal tragedy has struck at the De La Vega household and Machete seems to be getting away with murder again, whilst El Zorro is painted as the blackest of monsters…

A simple tell well-told and lavishly illustrated, Zorro: Matanzas is packed with spectacular action and diabolical intrigue in the grand manner and incidentally offers a potted origin and discreet peek at the fabulous subterranean citadel covertly crafted by Diego and Bernardo to facilitate the Fox’s war on injustice.

Although more incident than main feature, this is a blistering romp every lover of human-scaled adventure will adore…
Zorro®: Matanzas, Volume One © 2014 Zorro Productions, Inc. All rights Reserved.

Outlaw Territory volume 1


By Many & Various (Image Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-60706-004-8

The Western is a rather odd entertainment genre which can be sub-divided into two discrete halves: the sparkly, shiny version that dominated kids’ books, comics and television for decades, best typified by heroes such as Roy Rogers and Gene Autry – and the other stuff: the material typified by the efforts of Sam Peckinpah, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef…

In comics, that kind of cowboy yarn – grimy, gritty, excessively dark and nihilistic – was done best for years by Europeans in such strips as Charlier & Giraud’s Lieutenant Blueberry or Bonelli and Galleppini’s Tex Willer: iconic sagas which have only recently made their mark on US culture…

Outlaw Territory is of the latter variety; an anthological series offering fervid snapshots of  the sort of bleak, brutal incidents and accidents that were latterly sanitised for kiddie consumption but which in the end are probably just as far from the historical truth as any six-gun shootout on Main Street…

The iconic trappings of the Western make the milieu well-nigh irresistible to creative folk. We all want a crack at a cowboy yarn and this invitational series drew in a vast number of writers, artists and colourists who all took their shot – and occasionally more than one – resulting in this evocative initial paperback compilation of dark vignettes covering all aspects of the genre.

This first collection gathers stories by veteran and neophyte comics-creators who all have a spirited go at making something fresh out of a well-worn subject and, whilst the quality might occasionally falter, the rampant enthusiasm never does…

The moody moments begin with a painterly and poetic dialogue-free treatise on the traditional vengeance quest in ‘Daniel 5:27’ by Moritat, after which ‘Ballad of a Bad Man’ from Joe Kelly, Max Fiumara & letterer Thomas Mauer (who inscribes almost all of the tales in this collection) details the family traumas and depths plumbed to make a stone-cold killer…

Joshua Ortega & Trevor Goring deliver an iconic view of cruel and unusual punishment delivered at ‘Sundown’ before Shay, Dean Kotz & Ramiro Diaz Legaspe reveal a Civil War skirmish between aged experience and youthful enthusiasm for possession of ‘The Dispatch’ and Jose L. Torres & Jorge Molina Manzanero stylishly recount the story of a Mexican bounty hunter gripped by the ‘American Dream’

Ivan Brandon, Andy Macdonald, Daniel Heard & Kristyn Ferretti offer a different spin on a legendary moment in history with ‘The First Car in Mexico – or, the End of Pancho Villa’ whilst ‘The Most Civilized Establishment from Ocean to Ocean’ sees two would-be bandits dealt the most terrifying experience of their sorry lives in a spooky chiller by James Patrick, Khoi Pham & Jeremy Colwell.

‘Ahiga’ concentrates on rip-roaring gunplay and a bold jailbreak in a violent vignette from Christian Beranek & Koray Kuranel whilst Joshua Hale Fialkov & Christie Tseng plump for macabre moodiness as ‘Incident over Thirty-Six Days in the Colorado Rockies’ examines the instinct for survival in sub-zero conditions which seizes both a bounty hunter and his captive…

As depicted by Greg Pak & Ian Kim, institutional racism and casual genocide in ‘Rio Chino’ results in payback from most a most unusual avenger, after which ‘One Man’s Land’ by Stephen Reedy & Giorgos Gousis finds a fanatical territorial dispute devolving into murderous farce before Steven Grant, Shannon Eric Denton & John Choins deliver a wicked spin on the tried-and-true tragedy of ‘The Bounty Killer’

Greed for gold leads bad men to an extremely baroque and ugly end in Chris Moreno’s ‘He Will Set Your Fields on Fire’ whereas Fred Van Lente, Johnny Timmons & Danika Massey contrive deviously beautiful closure for a merciless beast after he meets ‘The Weaponsmith’ and M. Sean McManus & Michelle Silva craft a “Western Style Romance” when a sadistic brute meets his just end in a whorehouse after mistreating ‘Nora’

A very nasty father/son bonding experience informs ‘The Apprentice’ by Steve Orlando, Tyler Niccum & Matt Razzano whilst ‘Griswold’s Song’ – by Chad Kinkle & Ming Doyle – elegiacally examines a life short, unwise and bloody before Leonard N. Wallace & Christopher Mitten detail the grisly fate of Indian Hunters who hate each other more than the painted devils hungry to inflict their ‘Savage Practices’ upon them…

‘For Old Times’ Sake’ by Pat Loika, Jose Holder & Garry Henderson has old adversaries reunite in scarlet-spattered showdown after the intervening years have pulled each to the opposing side of the law, before cattle dispute leads to bloody murder in ‘Gutshot’ (Michael Woods, David Miller & Philip Fuller) and ‘Them What Comes’ from mpMann details a protracted siege and most unusual meeting of East and West…

Frank Beaton & Melika Acar scrutinise the ‘Craftsmanship’ of a hangman-turned-outlaw, Nemo Woodbine & Yeray Gil Hernandez detail the work practises of an exceedingly accomplished lady in ‘We Never Sleep’ and Josh Wagner & Joiton lavishly perform the sorry saga of an unrepentant rogue in ‘The Ballad of Sid Grenadine’.

‘The More Things Change’ by Skipper Martin, Christopher Provencher & Ellen Everett references big sky country and a truly twisted romance before Orlando, Niccum & Razzano reunite to trace the career-path of a long-in-the-tooth manhunter ‘Working on Christmas’

A band of unlovely brutes are served their just deserts in Noble Larimer, Jason Cheeseman Meyer & John Forucci’s ‘Hell Hath No Fury’ after which the mythic movie showdown scenario is given a smart makeover in ‘We Meet at Twelve’ by P. J. Kryfko, William Simpson &Mark Murphy before Simon Fraser craftily opts for a monochrome delivery and outrageous bad-taste black comedy to outline a bloody shaggy dog tale in ‘Ass Meat’

Wrapping up this first foray into contemporary Western wonderment, project instigator Michael Woods & illustrator Chad Sell share a gory story of frontier surgery and doing what’s right in ‘Memories’; calling to a close a superb compendium of mini-epics encapsulating the Good, The Bad, the Ugly and most especially the Fascinating for us literary mavericks and any newcomers keen on trying out new entertainment territory…
© 2009 Michael Woods. Outlaw Territory™ and its logos are trademarks of Michael Woods. All stories and characters likenesses are trademarks of their respective creators unless otherwise noted.