Review time! with <i>Black Jack Ketchum</i> #1

"Well, I come from West Colorado and I've wandered this world far and wide; I've lived for some years in the shadows and my eyes are unused to this light"

Brian Schirmer, who was at Rose City but whom I didn't get a chance to meet (there's always so much going on, and I can't get to everyone!!!), sent me a digital copy of his new comic, Black Jack Ketchum, which is in Previews (the October one) this very month (it's published by Image, so it's in the Image section)!

I don't know what the final cut-off date is, because my retailer is a bit weird about getting his orders in on time (he always seems to be late, but he usually always gets what he orders, so who knows what's going on), but if you're in the mood to pre-order it, you might want to get on it. But should you? Well, that's why I'm here, isn't it? I mean, I can give you one opinion about it, and if you trust me, you can base your decision on that! See how easy life is? Black Jack Ketchum is drawn by Claudia Balboni, with letters by Rob Bowman. Dani Colman and Jeremy Saliba (who also drew the cover) are the editors. It's $3.99, which is the new normal in comics, but it is 26 pages of story, which is nice.

The comic is in the grand tradition of "weird Western tales," as it takes place in the Old West, but a decidedly unusual Old West. Schirmer doesn't waste any time getting us to the weirdness - the issue begins with a dude riding a horse into town as he's chased by dark men in dusters (we find out they're actually called "Dusters"), and when they enter the saloon he ran into, we see that their faces are a bit cosmic - they're face-shaped, but they have no features, just darkness and stars. They look like Eternity, the Marvel character, in other words.

So, yeah. If that's not enough, the saloon seems to function as a portal to other dimensions, and that's how the first dude escapes. So ... yeah.

Our hero - Tom Ketchum - is on the run because bounty hunters are looking for him, as they believe him to be "Black Jack" Ketchum, a famous outlaw. That's not a bad hook - either he is Black Jack but doesn't remember (he doesn't appear to be faking it, and he does claim that his memory is gone), or he's actually not Black Jack and the entire comic is a case of mistaken identity. Either way, it's intriguing. He has a silent companion, the girl on the cover, who appears to be something of a crack shot. Obviously, we have no idea what their deal is yet, but it's early, and Schirmer doesn't really need to do anything except introduce her. Tom talks to his gun, too - and the gun talks back - so that's kind of odd. Schirmer does a nice job toying with Western archetypes - there's a Judge, a Banker, a Rail Baron, and a Rancher, and they're definitely Capital Letters kinds of guys, as they're playing roles in a grand game. Schirmer subverts our expectations at the end of the issue, as he goes one way with the plot and introduces a final character who is not what I, at least, thought it would be. There are plenty of interesting plot points in this issue, and while Schirmer is working within the Western genre, it's clear that he's trying to do something different with it, too.

That's always keen, as Westerns in comics tend to be pretty interesting, but toying with the conventions, when done well, is also welcome.

Balboni's art is good, too. It reminds me a bit of Matteo Scalera, which is not a bad thing at all. Her lines are sharp and crisp, which gives the Old West a cruel and unforgiving look, and her hatching makes the characters look rough and beaten, which is also pretty neat. She uses nice layouts that match the art style - lots of quadrilateral panels that are simply tilted rectangles, which give the book a frenetic look. She does a nice job with the oddness of the book, too - the Dusters, even before we see their faces, are long and lean, just slightly alien, and the giant train with teeth is pretty keen. The coloring is nice, too - it's relatively bright, so we can see everything well (although, as I've noted before, it will probably be darker in the printed edition), and while there's a good bit of the blue/orange complement, it's used in places where we'd expect to see it, so it's not egregious. The "special effects" are good, too - the light from a camp fire is done well, with a lot of smudging that makes it look like it's flickering without intruding too much on the scene.

I appreciate the flats, too - I don't know too much about color flatting, but I do know that the lack of rendering in the backgrounds help keep the art crisp, which is neat. Balboni's art is a bit exaggerated, so she doesn't need "realistic" coloring, because this should - and does - look like a comic book.

I can't write too much about this, because I don't want to give away the twists at the end (not that you'd get them, because you haven't read this yet!), but Schirmer does a nice job setting things up so that it looks like he's going one way, and then turning things nicely so that he goes a different way. When the book is grounded in tropes like this one, it's nice to see a writer playing with those a bit and still giving us an entertaining first issue. Obviously, the biggest mystery is if Tom is really Black Jack, but there's a lot of other stuff going on, too. It's an encouraging beginning!

You can probably still pre-order Black Jack Ketchum from your retailer [Edit: I found out the final order cut-off is 9 November, so you definitely can!], and if it sounds intriguing, that's probably the best way to go. It's a pretty cool comic!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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