on March 7, 2011
The anthology format is a slippery one. On one hand it has the potential to be a treasure trove of unique voices and visual styles. Unfortunately on the other hand, it could just be a mish-mash hodge-podge barely held together by the so-called 'theme' of the book. Collections like "Flight" and "Popgun" never really worked for me because they always felt like laboratory experiments. Some may get their kicks reading such 'experimental' works, but I enjoy a good yarn dammit. Throw paint at a canvas and call it art somewhere else, thank you very much. Editor Michael Woods refuses to take the easy way out for this collection. Every single story included here is an honest grit and spit old west tale. People seeking crossovers with aliens, supernatural beasties, or time travelers should look elsewhere. If however you want solid storytelling with breathtaking visual flair, you've come to the right place. A collection like this is bound to have highs and lows, but it needs to be noted that there are no downright 'bad' tales presented here. I can find something to appreciate in all of them, even if some hit my personal sweet spot better than others. Of the 30 tales presented here, these were my personal favorites:
"Rustlin' Up Business" - A troublesome little chap stirs up a bit of mayhem in this very funny little piece that starts things off nicely.
"Cherokee Bill" - A thoughtful character study of man AND reader! Love the art. Excellent use of color here, and an interesting minimalist approach all around.
"The Strongbox" - Seriously great looking art, and a simple tale that resonates. Solid characters, great emotional beats, and an ending that delivers. One of my favorites in the collection.
"The Face on the Poster" - Nice ear for dialog here. Staton did a nice job on pencils. I have to praise the colors as well. It's a nice bit of work all around.
"They'll Bury You Where You Stand" - WEIRD! Not an art style that normally appeals to me, but Dustin Weaver did a fantastic job! The whole tale feels almost dreamy and surreal. Vivid characters from both writer and artist, I just found myself repeatedly smiling throughout. When the pretty boy in the goofy shirt shows up I really felt this sucker kick into high gear. Fun, fun, fun. Lots of great textures and moments, and some seriously great little artistic flourishes, especially in the background characters. Almost Terry Gilliam in its weirdness, I put this great tale near the top of the heap.
"Death of an Outlaw" - Fine little tale indeed. I'm a fan of the artist Daniel Lafrance. Loose, dirty, and stylish, he's great at telling a story and getting his characters to express emotion. It's a good tale, well paced, and solidly written overall. The art shines more than the writing, but everyone did well here.
"Bring Me the Head of Joaquin Santiago" - Nice change of pace here. Feels different from the rest of the book, and it's definitely well told. I dig the moody noir deep shadowed look. Nice characters, solid dialog, and it wraps up nicely. Well illustrated, and all around good piece of storytelling. It's a tale that feels perfect for what it is in terms of length, pace and style.
"The Score of the Century" - Both the art and writing shine here equally. Great to look at as well as read. For some reason the art grabs me as one of my favorites. Stylish, expressive, with a bright fun interesting color palette, well realized characters, and nice voices to boot. The writer and artist make a damn fine team. I didn't enjoy the Indian's tale as much as the outlaws, but it didn't diminish what really stands out as a fun piece that was seriously entertaining.
"Frontier Consumption" - Great tale that I want to read a second time just to pick up any stray nuances! Fan-f**king-tastic well realized characters, superb voices, and dialog, with a visual flair that sets it apart and makes it shine a bit brighter in a sea if very pretty sparkly things. A high note for the collection. The man at the helm Connor Willumsen handles all the duties as both artist and writer. This is a moody tale, and not necessarily only visually so. His storytelling voice makes this a unique tasty experience. Dusty hats off to him.
"Man On a Horse" - Not totally satisfying, but pretty damn good! This is how to start a short story! By page 2 this sucker is buzzing! Unfortunately it ultimately heads to a rather ho-hum convenient finale that just kind of deflates, rather than ending on any real punch of any kind. It started off damn good though, and was a fine read overall. The art is the real star here. Seriously dynamic and beautiful. The pretty pictures alone make this one of the best in the book. A definite favorite of mine in this collection.
"Corallin' Up a Memory" - It's a change of pace piece that has a distinctive mood all its own, and a unique sounding author's voice behind the characters. It's not a yarn that's doing plot gymnastics, rather a nice vignette that feels like it's capturing an authentic, textured, and nuanced little scene between these characters. It just felt like a rich little piece, even though it's a bit light on actual plot.
"Santa Fe" - The art here is a slam dunk. Serious skill, and one of the best if not THE best in the book. The writer and artist perfectly compliment each other with the quiet beats and visual storytelling that is hard to top. The tale itself unfortunately is pretty run of the mill. Nice flourishes with the prologue and epilogue, but once the heist is revealed it takes a pretty predictable turn I'm afraid. Still, negatives aside, it's a highlight of the collection. Rarely do I see an artist do his own coloring so skillfully.
"Lullaby" - Another one stop shop of artist and writer, this time Francesco Francavilla. Easily my very favorite work ever done by the man. The story is simple, perhaps a touch too simple, but it works. The art is the star, and damn does it shine. There feels like serious care and attention to detail going on here. Silent storytelling can be a b**ch. He's at the very top of his game unfolding this sucker. It's a stunner. A jewel of the collection, and deserves high praise.
"A Dead Man's Hand" - Pretty cool! The characters make this tale a worthy one, although I don't consider the art a slouch. Just an overall fine little read, with a unique spin on the ol' beaten to death cliche' of "draw at high noon."
"Where the White Man Cannot Follow" - Ending the collection on a high note, this one is a definite shot to the gut that penetrates and resonates.
on June 22, 2011
This volume is the best money I've spent on an anthology or graphic novel in years, if perhaps ever. Each piece was tightly written and drawn. Every story was imaginative, engaging, and there were few, if any I felt like skipping. With most anthologies, I generally end up with one story that I love, while the rest fade away. With this volume, there were only a handful (2 or 3) stories that I disliked.
The talent on every page was amazing, from big hitters like Dysart and Jeff Lemire, to unknowns, each story had a unique flavor and I never felt like I was getting a repeat or rehashed story. Props to the editors on this book.
Seriously, if you love western (genre) comics or even comics in general, this volume will not disappoint.