The Bluecoats volume 7: The Blues in the Mud


By Willy Lambil & Raoul Cauvin, translated by Jerome Saincantin (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-84918-183-9

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 Western wonder man Lucky Luke when the laconic gunslinger defected from weekly anthology Spirou to comic rival Pilote. 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 edgy and 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 Cauvin has written dozens of other long-running, award winning series including Cédric, Les Femmes en Blanc and Agent 212: more than 240 separate albums in total. The Bluecoats alone has sold more than 15 million copies.

The sorry protagonists of the show 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 cavalry 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, feigning death and 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…

The Blues in the Mud was first seen on the continent in 1978 as 13th album Les Bleus dans la gadoue, and opens here with our surly stalwarts on patrol. Riding through glorious autumn countryside, they stop at a lake to wash off the dust and find another Union soldier already indulging. However, closer scrutiny soon reveals that this young man is actually a woman…

She tearfully shares her shameful secret with them. Dear brother John vanished soon after enlisting and – terrified that he has deserted and besmirched the Cassidy honour – she has secretly taken his place to search for him…

Although Blutch thinks she’s crazy, the tragic tale goes right to Chesterfield’s head and heart. He promises that they will look out for her as she looks out for her brother but, after teaching her a few tricks to avoid getting killed by Confederate gunfire or her own commanders’ idiotic orders, Blutch starts to wonder about their winsome protégé…

As the weather turns foul and torrents of rain turn battlefields into swamps and skirmishes into messy, inconclusive mud-baths, Chesterfield’s overprotective nature starts men and officers talking – particularly about how the grizzly non-com keeps making the new recruit cry…

Platonically besotted, the Sarge doesn’t notice how “Private Cassidy” keeps disappearing, and when Blutch testily points it out, only assumes she’s looking for that missing brother and her nervousness is just fear of being caught…

Alas for all concerned, the little corporal soon determines, any fear of being caught is due to the fact that she’s a spy who has the Sarge wrapped around her little finger…

Finally, however even Chesterfield has to face facts and in his righteous indignation makes Blutch help him ride right into the Confederate camp to arrest her…

After that gallant gesture goes horribly wrong the Bluecoats manage to get back to their own lines only to find that they’ve been charged with desertion and are being fitted up for a firing squad…

Is there anything or anyone that can possibly save them?

Another hugely amusing, savagely anti-war saga targeting young and less cynical audiences, this tale is particularly trenchant on the pointless nature of the conflict, with a large portion of the tale devoted to depicting the grim hilarity of soldiers unable to stand in a constantly-shifting morass doing their utmost to kill their equally enmired opponents, even if they can’t actually tell friend from foe anymore…

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 1978 by Lambil & Cauvin. English translation © 2013 Cinebook Ltd. All rights reserved.

Jonah Hex volume 6: Bullets Don’t Lie


By Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti, Paulo Siqueira, Jordi Bernet, Darwyn Cooke, Mark Sparacio, J.H. Williams III, Rafa Garres & various (DC Comics)
ISBN: 978-1-4012-2157-7

Always savvy enough to apply a broad variety of experimental approaches to this grittiest of human heroes, the assembled string of all-star artists working with scripters Justin Grey & Jimmy Palmiotti on this 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 sixth paperback (or digital, should you be so inclined) collection, reprinting issues #31-36 of the comic book series from 2006, these six stand-alone sagas serve to show the ravaged and determinedly dissolute bounty hunter yet again facing the worst that humanity can offer… or sink to…

Coloured by Rob Schwager and Dave Stewart, the six-gun sextet starts with a wry and devious manhunt illustrated by Paulo Siqueira & Amilton Santos wherein the greatest bounty hunter in the west is hired to bring in infamous outlaw ‘The Red Mask’.

Sadly, the entire affair is a set-up from start to finish – a fact Hex is aware of almost from the start…

Murder-mystery gives way to exotic macho mayhem and a deft tribute – limned by the legendary Jordi Bernet – to Sergio Leone’s signature “Spaghetti-Westerns” as Jonah is enticed to visit Mexico by a rich man who wants him to kill ‘The Matador’ who seduced his wife.

Having made the mistake of refusing the job, Hex endures the millionaire’s sadistic displeasure before uniting with his original target to hand out some US-style retribution…

Much-missed hyper-stylist Darwyn Cooke illustrates the shocking trials of sub-arctic survivalism as ‘The Hunting Trip’ takes Hex deep into Canada and up against vicious, corrupt Mounties, inadvertently teaching a young orphan boy the cruellest facts of life…

Even a cold-hearted killer like Jonah Hex has a breaking point and ‘Outrunning Shadows’ – with rather stiff and static painted art by Mark Sparacio – sees the bounty killer turn his back on slaughter to peacefully settle down.

Sadly, greed and human nature never change and before long he’s forced to drop his dreams and pick up his guns again…

After another particularly bloody job, Hex lets his guard down enough to accept the hospitality of the local lawman. After envying the childless couple’s domestic bliss, Jonah’s refusal of ‘A Crude Offer’ on their part leads to a situation gunplay won’t fix in a tense thriller pictured by J.H. Williams III.

Wrapping up the hard-hitting feast of thrills is a grimly uncompromising examination of racism and self-loathing illustrated by Rafa Garres. Wearing Confederate grey in the aftermath of the war always brought Hex trouble but never as much as this time when the sight of him terrifies a young negro girl into killing herself.

When the appalled, guilt-ridden gunslinger is lynched by her outraged kin and friends, Hex is saved by the recently-convened Ku Klux Klan who also attribute far too much to the clothes he wears and not the beliefs he holds…

After dealing with the white marauders in a manner they so richly deserve, Hex makes the sole survivor dig ‘Seven Graves Six Feet Deep’

With captivating covers from Richard Corben, Bernet, Cooke, Andy Kubert & Pete Carlsson, Williams III and Garres, Bullets Don’t Lie is an explosively grim, yet blackly comedic collection starring the very best Western anti-hero ever created: doling out a fabulously intoxicating blend of action and social commentary no fan of the genre or top-notch comics magic will want to miss.
© 2006, 2007 DC Comics. All Rights Reserved.

Bouncer volume 1: A Diamond for the Beyond


By Alejandro Jodorowsky & François Boucq, coloured by Ben Dimagmaliw & Nicolas Fructus and translated by Justin Kelly(Humanoids)
ISBN 978-1-59465-600-2 (Digital edition)

Born in Tocopilla, Chile in 1929, Alejandro Jodorowsky Prullansky is a filmmaker, playwright, actor, author, world traveller, philosopher, spiritual guru and comics writer.

The amazing modern polymath is most widely known for such films as Fando y Lis, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, Sante Sangre, The Rainbow Thief, The Dance of Reality and others, and a vast and influential comics output, including Anibal 5 (created whilst living in Mexico), Le Lama blanc, Aliot, The Meta-Barons, Borgia, Madwoman of the Sacred Heart and so many more, created with some of the world’s greatest artists.

His decade-long collaboration with Moebius on the Tarot-inspired adventure The Incal (1981-1989) completely redefined and reinvented what comics could aspire to and achieve.

Most widely regarded for his violently surreal avant-garde films, loaded with highly-charged, inspired imagery – blending mysticism and what he terms “religious provocation” – and his spiritually-informed fantasy and science fiction comics tales, Jodorowsky is also fascinated by humanity’s inner realms.

To better explore that arena he has devised his own doctrine of therapeutic healing: Psychomagic, Psychogenealogy and Initiatic massage.

He remains fully engaged and active in all these creative areas to this day.

French illustrator François Boucq was born in Lille on November 28th 1955 and has made a career out of rendering – with staggering scope, surreal subtlety power and entrancing élan – stories both intellectually challenging and viscerally powerful.

With material such as Little Tulip, The Magician’s Wife, Sente, Bouche de diable, Billy Budd, KGB and many more, he has garnered numerous awards at the Angoulême International Comics Festival and elsewhere. His work here in collaboration with the impeccably adroit raconteur on a work of pure genre is amongst the best he has ever crafted…

Scarce but still available in English as one large hardback compilation or in tantalising digital instalments such as the one under review here, Bouncer began appearing in 2001, eking out eight volumes between then and 2012.

Stuffed with carefully harvested tropes and memes of an immortal and iconic form of myth-making, the classic vengeance tale Un diamant pour l’au-delà opens as A Diamond for the Beyond with a gang of confederate-clad riders torturing a deserter from their ranks. The war might be long over but Captain Ralton van Dorman is still waging it… against civilians he encounters and even his own men when they try to make him see reason…

A sadist with his own code of honour, the Captain even gives the latest traitor a fighting chance. Admittedly not much of one, but still…

Butchery completed, the raiders move inexorably on, plundering a small settlement for supplies and to allow the men to indulge their baser natures before he heads them west out into the big country…

Far ahead of them Preacher Blake and his Indian wife Emihiyah wonder where their troublesome boy Seth is…

The son is deep into a shadowed canyon exploring an old dilapidated house where he finds a desiccated corpse in a coffin. Fascinated, he can’t stop himself taking the ornate pistols and fancy gun-belt cinched around the body.

Naturally his stern pa confiscates them as soon as he gets home and refuses to explain why his name is engraved on them, and any further argument is curtailed when van Dorman’s mob riotously rides in and Seth’s parents frantically make him hide…

It’s been seventeen years since Ralton last saw his brother and the murderous racist has not mellowed in all that time. He is appalled by his brother’s miscegenation and still wants the diamond…

Baffled Seth can only watch in horror as the uncle he never knew and his vile companions commit every kind of abuse and outrage on his kin and even his dog. When the atrocities conclude and the outlaws ride away, traumatised Seth remembers his father’s last word to him: go to Barro City and tell the Bouncer at the Inferno Saloon

Barro is a typical lawless frontier town and Seth barely survives a few close scrapes before finding his man. In truth, the bouncer finds him after two hulking thugs try to take those fancy guns away from him…

The rangy private peacekeeper is quite a surprise: quiet, composed and deadly in a fight despite only having one arm. He also claims to be Seth’s other uncle…

The next day they make the weary pilgrimage back to bury the dead and the Bouncer shares a ghastly tale. Ralton wants a fabulous diamond called the Eye of Cain that Seth’s grandmother once owned…

A whore and child of whores, hardened by a horrific life, she became “Aunty Lola”: the meanest and most successful Madam in the west, complete with her own saloon. She handled all problems with ruthless efficiency and had three sons out of wedlock who grew up mean and dangerous. Their lives all changed after she and her boys blew up and robbed a train to steal a gigantic diamond bought by a millionaire to lure away one of Lola’s girls…

Hiding out in a shack in secluded canyon, greed then got the better of them. Lola wouldn’t let go of the gem and she and the boys fell to fighting. Before she drove them all off Ralton lost an eye, Bouncer got his arm blown off and Blake lost his nerve…

By the time they were able to go back, Lola had killed herself, but not before hiding the gem where nobody could ever find it…

Now Ralton’s back to claim what’s his, unaware that he’s created a killer who will stop at nothing to avenge his parents. All he has to do is convince the Bouncer to teach him how to kill…

To Be Continued…

Stylish, ultra-violent and wickedly wry, the compelling mystery of the Eye of Cain and Seth’s quest for “justice” is delivered with confidant panache and rendered unforgettable by Boucq’s astounding illustration: especially the mind-bending vistas and landscapes of the valleys and canyons of the classic cinematic wild west.

Magnificent and unforgettable, this a tale no one should miss.
© 2015 Humanoids, Inc., Los Angeles (USA). All rights reserved.

Lucky Luke


By Morris & Goscinny, translated by Luke Spear (Cinebook)
ISBN: 978-1-905460-49-6

It’s hard to think of one of Europe’s most beloved and evergreen comics characters being in any way controversial, but when changing times caught up with the fastest gun in the West (“so fast he can outdraw his own shadow”) and the planet’s most laconic cowboy moved with them, the news made headlines all over the world.

Lucky Luke is a rangy, good-natured, lightning-fast cowboy who roams the fabulously mythic Old West, having light-hearted adventures with his sarcastic horse Jolly Jumper and interacting with a host of historical and legendary figures. His continued exploits over nearly seventy years have made him one of the best-selling comic characters in Europe (68 individual adventures totalling more than 300 million albums in 30 languages thus far), with the usual spin-off toys, computer games, animated cartoons and a plethora of TV shows and live-action movies.

He was created in 1946 by Belgian animator, illustrator and cartoonist Maurice de Bévère (“Morris”) and first seen the 1947 Annual (L’Almanach Spirou 1947) of Le Journal de Spirou, before launching into his first weekly adventure ‘Arizona 1880’ on December 7th 1946.

Working solo until 1955, Morris produced nine albums worth of affectionate sagebrush spoofery before teaming with old pal and fellow trans-American tourist Rene Goscinny, who became the regular wordsmith as Luke attained the dizzying heights of superstardom, commencing with ‘Des rails sur la Prairie’ (Rails on the Prairie), which began in Spirou on August 25th 1955.

In 1967, the six-gun straight-shooter switched sides, transferring to Goscinny’s own magazine Pilote with ‘La Diligence’ (The Stagecoach). Goscinny co-created 45 albums with Morris before his untimely death, from whence Morris soldiered on both singly and with fresh collaborators.

Morris himself died in 2001 having drawn fully 70 adventures, plus some spin-off sagas crafted with Achdé, Laurent Gerra, Benacquista & Pennac, Xavier Fauche, Jean Léturgie, Jacques Pessis and others, all taking a crack at the venerable franchise…

Moreover, apart from that very first adventure, Lucky (to appropriate a quote applied to the thematically simpatico TV classic Alias Smith and Jones) “in all that time… never shot or killed anyone…”

Lucky Luke was first spotted in the UK syndicated to weekly anthology Film Fun during the late 1950s and again in 1967 in Giggle, where he was renamed Buck Bingo.

In all these venues – as well as the numerous attempts to follow the English-language successes of Tintin and Asterix albums – Luke sported a trademark cigarette hanging insouciantly from his lip. However, in 1983 Morris – no doubt amidst both pained howls and muted mutterings of “political correctness gone mad” – deftly substituted a piece of straw for the much-travelled dog-end, which garnered him an official tip of the hat from the World Health Organization.

The most recent and successful attempt to bring Lucky Luke to our shores and shelves comes from Cinebook (who have rightly restored the foul weed to his lips on the interior pages, if not the covers…), and it’s clearly no big deal for today’s readership as we’re well past sixty translated books and still going strong.

Tortillas for the Daltons was the tenth of their 63 albums, now available both on paper and as e-books. As Tortillas pour les Daltons it was first published in Europe 1967: the charming cowboy’s 31st sagebrush foray and Goscinny’s 22nd collaboration with Morris, offering a beguilingly exotic and action-packed visit across the fabled Rio Grande in search of justice and good times…

It all begins in jail as vile owlhoots Averell, Jack, William and their slyly psychotic, overly-bossy shorter brother Joe Dalton are roused from their cosy comfort zone with the shocking news that they’re all being moved to a less crowded penitentiary – one situated near the Mexican border…

The infamous Dalton Gang are incorrigible criminals and no effort is spared to make sure they arrive at their destination. The warden even assigns faithful prison hound Rin Tin Can to the large escort but has apparently forgotten that the vain, friendly and exceedingly dim pooch is utterly loyal to absolutely everybody and no use at all in any kind of crisis…

Parking up for the night by the mighty border, the soldiers and security are sadly unaware that a gang of banditos are eyeing up the iron-studded coach and wondering just what manner of gringo valuables it might contain…

Despite striking with typical dash, verve and flamboyance, the gaudy thieves are ultimately quite disappointed with their haul, but in America the public breathes a huge communal sigh of relief that the Daltons are no longer a menace to their property. Sadly, the Mexican government kicks up such a fuss at the unwelcome additions to their population that the US authorities summon Lucky Luke to Washington DC and beg him to retrieve the contentious criminal tourists…

Not that the Daltons have actually broken any laws yet. They’ve been spending all their time trying to convince bandit supremo Emilio Espuelas that they are as good at being bad as any Mexican.

Whilst he may not accept that, the sinister sombrero-wearer is pretty certain that the odd quartet will be an unnecessary and costly burden. It takes all Joe’s efforts to convince him not to kill them outright. Eventually however, the burly brigand agrees to accept them as apprentice thieves. That tenuous situation almost ends when the assembled scoundrels scout the sleepy village of Xochitecotzingo and Joe a has a fit. The little loon has seen Lucky Luke riding into town with dumb mutt Rin Tin Can in tow.

After his introduction in 1962’s Sur la piste des Dalton, (On the Daltons’ Trail) Rantanplan – “dumbest dog in the West” and a wicked parody of cinema canine Rin-Tin-Tin – became an irregular feature in Luke’s adventures before eventually landing his own spin-off series title. The moronic mutt is in top form here, spreading confusion and mirth far and wide especially after meeting his cross-border counterpart – a clever chihuahua named Rodriguez

Joe Dalton’s devious mind goes into inventive overdrive after spotting his laconic nemesis: determined that Emilio must not learn of the hero’s presence, else he sell the brother back to the emissary of America for a tidy profit…

As Luke avails himself of the local hospitality and acquaints himself with the friendly foreigners’ funny customs, Joe leads the multinational miscreants in a good old US bank raid but has failed to take into account the hamlet’s lack of a proper venue to store money…

As international relations go into a steep decline, the extremely suspicious Espuelas is ready to cut his losses. In town, Lucky is experiencing similar difficulties lost in translation. The local law enforcers have a long tradition of keeping the peace by not asking for trouble by chasing outlaws…

Eventually, however, the canny cowboy drums up a little support, just as Joe convinces Emilio to rob the lavish ranchero of the region’s richest man. Sadly for them, that’s exactly where Lucky and Rin Tin Can are staying…

When noble Don Doroteo announces a grand party, the villains are tempted beyond their ability to resist. Emilio even finds a way for the Daltons to be useful at last. Disguised as a Mariachi band, the gringos can move about the event in preparation for a classic Mexican raid – but only if nobody asks them to play or sing…

Sensibly devolving into total farce and a ferocious gunfight, Tortillas for the Daltons is a wild and woolly comedy romp, offering fast-paced, seductive slapstick and wry cynical humour in another delicious yarn in the tradition of Destry Rides Again and Evil Roy Slade, superbly executed by master storytellers and providing a wonderful introduction to a unique genre for today’s kids who might well have missed the romantic allure of an all-pervasive Wild West that never was…
© Dargaud Editeur Paris 1971 by Goscinny & Morris. © Lucky Comics. English translation: © 2008 Cinebook Ltd.

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