For my 1,000th review on Comic Vine, I wanted to pick something special, so I chose this, Preacher Special Cassidy: Blood & Whiskey. Preacher was a consistently good series, and Irish vampire Cassidy was one of the highlights of the series.
The story takes place mostly in New Orleans, where Cassidy has stopped because he has smelled another vampire. This leads him to make the acquaintance of one Eccarius, a long-haired, florid-talking, cape-wearing self-described 'Lord of Nightfall'. In other words: a walking vampire cliché.
Eccarius takes Cassidy to a gathering of goth types that meet in a cellar, drink each others' blood, and beg Eccarius to make them like him. Cassidy is, of course, disgusted with the lot, roughs them up. One of the Goth crowd, 'Roger', who wears sunglasses indoors, writes poetry, and looks suspiciously like Neil Gaiman (writer Garth Ennis' rival at DC Vertigo at the time), particularly elicits Cassidy's ire. Cassidy then drags Eccarius away to get drunk. (Strangely, despite the title, there is no whiskey drinking in this comic - they drink blood, wine and lots of beer, but no whiskey.)
Sure, it's another one of Garth Ennis' cheap shots (most of Preacher involves him taking potshots at easy targets especially politicians, clergy and other authority figures), and once again lionizes Cassidy as a sort of punk rock vampire who uses slang expressions like 'bollicks' a little too much, in a way that seems to say the writer's trying too hard to make him seem cool.
But to fully appreciate Preacher: Blood & Whiskey, one really needs to remember what it was like in the 90s. In the wake of the film version of 'Interview with a Vampire', neo-Gothic Revivalism was at an all-time high, and New Orleans was pretty much ground zero. So, this comic would've been much sharper then, when legions of wannabe Goths were a lot more annoying, and fewer parodies of them had been made. There were also far less vampire films and comics, and vampires generally still mostly fit the traditional mold, so this story poking fun of the genre's clichés also would've seemed much more novel at the time.
But when it comes down to it, this is still a really good read. A self-contained Cassidy story that's still fondly remembered by
fans. It's not at all surprising that it made Wizard Magazine's list of '100 Best Single Issue Comics Since You Were Born'.
Don't lean on me, man, 'cause you can't afford the ticket!
In Weird Western Tales #27, Jonah Hex is in Kansas where he becomes involved in the women's suffrage movement when he's hired to protect the outspoken Mary Ellen Todd.
The problem is, a local cattle baron, Thraxton, doesn't want women to get the vote in Kansas because the same gubernatorial candidate that supports national female suffrage also supports a state's water-rights policy that would end Thraxton's control over the region's water supply.
One of the great things about this issue is that Noly is back on art. His artwork is definitely notable for its cinematic quality - he often chooses interesting angles on the action - something that was not yet common in comics in the early 70s.
But what's really notable here is the story. Writer Michael Fleisher creates a story that balances action with moments of humor in a story that also gives a lot of insight into the character of Jonah Hex. Not only do we learn he's a chauvinist, but that, while he's a hired gun, he stay's bought. In one conversation with Thraxton, Hex admits that he thinks women having the right to vote is "downright ridiculous", but he refuses to switch sides, even when Thraxton offers to double the amount Miss Todd is paying him (which would mean $1,000 - a large sum for the late 19th Century), saying, "In muh whole life ah've only switched sides once in th' middle of a fight... ...an' after thet once, ah swore ah'd never do it again, no matter whut!" This seems to reveal a lot about Hex's character. The likely supposition is that he's referring to something that happened during the war - possibly connected to the reason he still wears his Confederate uniform, or why certain Southern loyalists want him dead... but that's a story for another time.
Jonah Hex's views on women really aren't that out of touch with what most western gunfighters would've thought, and by not choosing to make him the heroic crusader for women's rights that most comic heroes would be at the time this was written is another way Jonah Hex was depicted as a complex character at a time, just post Silver Age, when such multi-dimensionality was pretty rare.
(please recommend this mostly spoiler free review here)
It doesn't matter how much time I spend reading and reviewing comics. How much effort I put into writing insightful critique while avoiding spoilers and looking at various aspects of not only an issue, but how it fits in the larger scope of a body of work. Nobody's going to bother reading, commenting or recommending.
I could just turn on my webcam and ramble and upload a video. It would be short-shrifting the material, but even if I edited in some flashy graphics, it wouldn't take as long as it does to thoughtfully compose a written article with embedded images and links, and would probably get way more views. If I was a cute girl it would probably even go viral every so often.
Professional critics for newspapers used to make their whole living putting in less time reviewing than I do. Yet even if posted to the forums they'll go unseen, as endless "ask (insert username)", RPG and battle threads clog up the front page and the second and third pages... Sometimes wonder why I bother.
As I sit down to write a review of Weird Western Tales number 22 from June of 1974, I feel I have to talk about one of the big issues that confronts a contemporary reader of vintage Jonah Hex comics... the apparent racism in the stereotyping of the characters.
In this issue Jonah Hex is sheltering from the rain in a crude lean-to when armed robbers happen by. He dispatches them with his six-shooters, and realizes that they're the men he's been tracking (he's a bounty hunter).
Unfortunately, in the gunfight his horse was killed by a stray bullet, and he's forced to carry his gear on foot, until a passing stagecoach happens by and offers him a lift.
The coach contains several passengers, including a deputy who's escorting a huge negro criminal, named Blackjack Jorgis, back to the town of 'Hard Times' for trial, and a mysterious stranger who recognizes Jonah Hex from a Confederate Army photo.
This is where things can get a bit iffy for the modern reader. The stagecoach is attacked by Blackjack's cronies who free him and then flee. All the 'good' citizens aboard the stagecoach seem to be Anglo caucasian, including the driver who's killed by Blackjack's men. Blackjack's gang, on the other hand is made up of two Mexicans, Sanchez and Esteban, who are portrayed as dirty, greasy, reprobates, and an 'Injun', who seems to only be there to look menacing... and then there's Blackjack himself, who's a watermelon chomping black stereotype.
But then racial stereotypes aren't the only stereotypes present. The southwestern townspeople are illiterate yokels, the sheriff is a drunk... but wait a minute, isn't that a common Western trope? The drunk sheriff? Dean Martin in Rio Bravo, Robert Mitchum in El Dorado, the list goes on and on... the entire Western genre is built upon certain tropes, cliches even... if you take out too many of them, it almost ceases to be a Western (imagine a western where nobody could be shown wearing cowboy hats, riding horses or using guns).
What about historical accuracy? A lot of Western frontiers types were alcoholics - or at least very heavy drinkers - it's a pretty well documented fact. A lot of people, especially out west were illiterate - even to this day the southwest U.S. has some of the highest rates of illiteracy (and the highest if you take out California, New York and Florida, the states that are skewed by the biggest immigrant port cities).
When it comes to racial stereotyping, stridently anti-racist rapper Ice-T said that people need to listen to the whole story, while it's a racial stereotype he admits to loving fried chicken and watermelon - going so far as to record a song called 'Fried Chicken'. Ice-T it's worth noting actually had a reason for saying 'listen to the whole story', he was famously accused of glorifying anti-police violence by writing the song 'Cop Killer', but he could just as easily be accused of glorifying police work in his long-time portrayal a cop on TV's Law & Order.
The point Ice-T was making at the time is that any work of fiction has to be judged as part of it's whole. Should Quentin Tarantino avoid using the 'N' word in his movies as Director Spike Lee says? Or would a Western like Django Unchained be less realistic had it done so? That's where we come back to this issue of Weird Western Tales. Jonah Hex, at this time was a complex character - what's behind the whole 'shove a tamale down the greasy Mexican's throat' line? Here's a character who first appeared (and still does) wearing a Confederate army uniform - something that turned me off about this 'hero' when I was a kid. But does he really hold the values of the Confederacy? This issue casts some doubt on that point, as he's tracked and marked for death by 'patriotic' Southern loyalists.
And then there's the issue of era. These Weird Western Tales comics were written in the early 1970s. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment poking fun at how blatantly sexist Silver Age comics are - but they were pretty much a reflection of what was 'normal' for their time. While the 1970s were the early post-civil rights era, whether or not society was any more racist than it is today may be debatable, but what's less debatable is that 'political correctness' had yet to become commonplace in popular culture. Westerns shamelessly portrayed 'Injuns' as bloodthirsty savages - and if they were talking about Apaches, weren't they more or less accurate, at least from the point of view of any non-Apache? And are even modern attempts at politically correct Westerns such as the 2013 Disney The Lone Ranger film (with Johnny Depp in 'redface' makeup) any less racially stereotyping despite their best intentions?
A mixture of genre tropes and complex characterization makes any Jonah Hex comic difficult to explain to anyone that hasn't read it, but the added dynamic of early 1970s social norms in popular fiction compound that problem. This issue's story, 'Showdown at Hard Times' is particularly difficult (especially in a review without spoilers) to summarize to the unfamiliar - as a Western, it's as good as any Jonah Hex story - how palatable such racially thorny escapism is to you is probably best made by yourself and best made by actually reading and judging the material first hand - so consider that an endorsement of this comic whether or not you think you like such stuff.
Weird Western Tales was one of DC's more memorable western series. Launched in the wake of the so-called 'spaghetti western' revival, it present western tales that were altogether darker in tone than previous 'cowboy hero' books.
Issue 16 features a Jonah Hex story and an El Diablo story. The awesome ghost cowboy in a saloon cover art references the story 'Vengeance of the Ghost Victims', the El Diablo tale. Jackson Slate, a mean gunfighter who picks fights and kills people shows up in town. He runs off an 'injun', kicks over Lazarus' wheelchair and then challenges a man who admonishes him to a duel. Slate is of course victorious, and a young greenhorn intends to take him on - even though it's suicidal. That's when El Diablo shows up.
The second story is the Jonah Hex story. Despite not getting the cover, it's the real feature, running more than twice as many pages. 'Grasshopper Courage' starts with Jonah Hex gunning down two fugitives in a town before being confronted by the young, unskilled sheriff. Hex claims innocence, showing the 'wanted' poster for the victims, but the sheriff tells him not to leave town until he checks him out.
Hex is visited that night by Amy, a wealthy young woman who's in love with the sheriff and pleads for Hex to accompany him when he goes after the Scortch Donnigan Gang to keep him safe. Hex refuses - until Amy offers him $500. Then he agrees. But there's more to the Scortch Donnigan Gang than meets the eye, and Hex lands in a heap of trouble.
This second story is pretty much a straightforward western, albeit a dark one. But even thought it contains none of the supernatural elements of the El Diablo story, it still crosses genres a bit, venturing into mystery territory.
What makes the pairing of these two stories work so well - especially in the order they've been placed in in this issue (accolades due to whoever was the uncredited editor of this comic), is that they both feature a greenhorn gunfighter, and the well-meaning kid from 'Vengeance of the Ghost Victims' primes the reader, almost acting as the setup for the naive sheriff of 'Grasshopper Courage'.
The art is also pretty strong here - I've included a panel featuring the 'hero' of each story as an example. Even those who grew up with comics of the 1990s or later, and are used to a more contemporary art style, are likely to agree, artist Nick Cardy's style suits the material.
Released this week is the Playstation console game 'Dragon's Crown'. Everything from it's style of game play (classic 2D arcade style) to the obviously Frank Frazetta inspired character designs show that the works of Robert E. Howard - and in particular, the 1970s Marvel comic books that brought them to a wide audience, still cast a fairly long shadow across popular culture. If nothing else, the constant attempts at a Robert E. Howard film franchise (original Schwarzenegger series, Red Sonja spinoff, Conan reboot under the name 'Kull', 2011 Conan reboot, Solomon Kane, and yet another Schwarzenegger reboot in the works) alone shows that Robert E. Howard (who was actually mostly known as a writer of westerns during his short lifetime), have the power to endure.
It is great that this work is being re-released so that anyone who missed it the first time around can re-experience it. The artwork in particular holds up quite well today - and in some cases even exceeds some contemporary work in the field, and the storylines, while admittedly simplistic by today's standards, are a great tonic for a medium where fantasy has come too often to mean fables and fairy tales rather than sword-swinging action.
When you mention fantasy poetry, most people think of something written in the 19th Century (if they can think of any fantasy poems at all!); poems like Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Edgar Allen Poe's 'The Raven', or Lewis Carroll's 'Jabberwocky'.
But almost totally ignored is the poetry of 20th Century pulp writers and fantasists. Rarely does Tolkien's 'lays' of Beleriand, H.P. Lovecraft's 'Despair', or anything by Robert E. Howard.
But these gentlemen were all very literate and composed much poetry in addition to their more well known prose works.
In issue #10 of Conan the Barbarian, Roy Thomas, and brother and sister artists Marie and John Severin - the team behind Kull the Conqueror, adapt 'The King and the Oak', one of Howard's previously published poems that featured Kull.
It's a great poem, not just because it features Kull, but because it has a real medieval parable quality to it. It features Kull riding to the sea at night, but being accosted by a tree in the forest - or was he? And there's even a covert environmental message here, worthy of some of the best of Dr. Seuss' works.
It's almost sad that we rarely see the comics medium used to elucidate these lesser known works of literature like it did in the 70s and 80s - but at least much of what has been adapted continues to live on in reprints.
Read This Before Watching the Schwarzenegger 'Conan'
Monsters on the Prowl #16 features a Kull story. And not just any Kull story - this is the Kull story that really starts to put the Kull saga into high gear. While 'Creatures on the Loose' issue 10 and the first two issues of Kull the Conqueror introduced the Atlantean barbarian and Brule, his Pictish sidekick - this story, "The Forbidden Swamp" which deals with their sacking of a temple of the Serpent Cult is what will be most familiar to modern audiences.
Everything from the gem-eyed snake statue to the introduction of one 'Thulsa Doom' (yes, the same Thulsa Doom that James Earl Jones played in the movie Conan the Barbarian)!
If you're up for a little old-fashioned sword-and-sorcery, this issue of Monsters on the Prowl has got you covered!
Kull May Be King, But This Title is Still Unproven
The first issue of Kull is not bad, but it's not a lot to judge the series on. Roy Thomas turns in the kind of sword-and-sorcery type story that made Conan the Barbarian such a hit. But he struggles to pack in so much back story about Kull's early life and rise to power from feral child to King of Valusia - all told via flashback - that there's little time for the story in the present.
And, while Robert E. Howard did little to distinguish Kull from Conan (some of the original Kull stories that were rejected by publishers he later resubmitted by changing the character's name to 'Conan' to capitalize on his more popular creation), it must be remembered that Howard's stories appeared months or even years apart. But with Conan and Kull running concurrently in multiple comics, Thomas and company will have to work a lot harder to establish uniquely different identities for each!
The same problem occurs from the art standpoint as well - Ross Andru and Wally Wood do little to significantly differentiate the book's art stylistically from that of Barry Windsor-Smith's work on Conan the Barbarian.
It's an O.K. start, but this series has a way to go if it's going to distinguish itself in the genre.