Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Heading Dead West

The edgy graphic novel Dead West, which wonderfully blends the tropes of the western cowboy tale with zombie horror stories, opens with a short prequel. A small Native American village is wiped out to make way for a town called Lazarus. Years later the lone Native American survivor returns and places a curse on the now bustling burg. The dead of the town rise from their graves and start attacking and snacking on the remaining inhabitants of Lazarus. Speed ahead one week and a stranger comes to town, an unnamed bounty hunter searching for a fugitive known only as the Fat Man. Caught in the midst of this horrifying event, the bounty hunter finds himself helping the trapped members of the town so he can reach and kill his target.

Spears’ story shows a skilled balance between heart-pounding action and quick little side moments that give the readers a chance to catch their breaths. The tale reaches its inevitably violent-yet-campy conclusion when the Calvary, quite literally, arrives by way of a division of civil war soldiers that wander into the scene with their guns and cannons blazing. Rob G’s artwork adds to the fast-paced plotting through a sketchy, frenetic and angular style. His depiction of violence works on a bone-splitting level that will satisfy horror fans, but toning down the gore just enough so it won't shock the average reader.

Fans of the Spears and G. team may be surprised by the lack of character development and deep themes that their previous project Teenagers From Mars provided so skillfully. Spears gives few clues to the identity of the bounty hunter and why he’s so intent on catching the Fat Man. But it’s well suited to this lone gunman style of western, making more than a few nods to Sergio Leone spaghetti western movies like Fist Full of Dollars as well as the cowboy anti-hero Jonah Hex of DC Comics. Besides, those looking for big themes in this book are probably missing the point; the book’s intent is one of pure fun and a thrilling source for guilty pleasures. Fans of zombies, westerns, and zombie-westerns (yes, they do exist...and in quite a level of abundance) will rejoice over this thrilling story, but DW probably won’t convert anyone normally opposed to either style. But as different as it is from their other works, DW points at a powerful collaboration between two creative minds that are heading towards a promising and diverse career.


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