Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Leonardo Manco
Publisher: Marvel Comics
The book opens with an unseen narrator laying out the history of a native gunslinger who went by the name the Apache Kid. After we discover this man fought alongside the Rawhide Kid for a number of years, we then discover that he was gunned down from behind by a group of cowards, one of whom turns out to be the son of a wealthy railway man. We then see that this man's murder has not gone unnoticed as we see a rather unusual gunslinger take down one of the men who took part in the murder of the Apache Kid. We also see that in another town the Rawhide Kid is following this same trail, as he has an encounter with another man who took part in this cowardly act, and the Rawhide Kid is forced to take this man down when the coward attempts a repeat performance of shooting a famous gunslinger in the back. However, the son of the railway man is quick to seek the protection his father's wealth can provide, and the Rawhide Kid & the second gunslinger find themselves up against an army of hired guns. However, the second gunslinger leaves the Rawhide Kid in a bad way after shooting the railway man's son while the Rawhide Kid was attempting to back out of the highly charged situation peaceful like.
A Western comic written by John Ostrander is a must read in my book, as his work on the "Kents" & "Blaze of Glory" have demonstrated that he knows the genre, and after reading this first issue it looks like we're in for another great story. Now I'll admit I'm a sucker for the Western genre as three films on my list of the top ten greatest films of all time are Westerns (the Searchers, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid and High Noon). I could also fill the rest of this column naming off Westerns that I consider to be must see films. However, while I'm a big fan of the Western film I'm willing to concede that rather simplistic motivations are used to drive the plots of most films in this genre (e.g. retired gunslinger being brought back for one final job, vengeful son/brother/husband seeking revenge on someone whose done him wrong, the Sheriff defending his town under siege). This in turn results in characters who aren't as fleshed out as they would be in other genres, as by virtue of the plot itself, the lead characters tend to be driven toward a single goal, and this in turn doesn't lend itself toward character introspection.
John Ostrander is able to open his first issue of this miniseries by somewhat bucking this trend though, as a large part of this issue is focused on making the reader aware of the victim whose murder spurs the heroes into action. Now most of this information is a history lesson on the Apache Kid, to let us know why the Rawhide Kid would come looking for the men who gunned him down, but there's also enough here that one can see that he was a good man who was shot in the back by a coward. There's also a fairly unique twist in this issue as we discover that the Rawhide Kid isn't the only hunter on the trail of this coward, and in a truly surprising turn of events the issue ends with this second party displaying the idea that their vengeance will not be kept in check by the idea that the coward has a small army of hired guns protecting him. I also enjoyed the idea that this second party leaves the Rawhide Kid standing on very shaky ground, as after the man stepped forward to give this second party a hand, he finds his offer is simply used by this person to leave him holding the bag while they make their escape.
While I'll admit that I found his pencil & ink work he delivered on the "Blaze of Glory" to be better suited to the Western environment, I'm not going to complain too loudly as Leonardo Manco turns in some absolutely lovely looking art on this opening issue, starting with a great looking collection of images that detail the life of the Apache Kid. The art also manages to avoid the main problem that I have with most painted titles, as the art isn't merely a collection of pinups, but rather it successfully delivers its story. From the immediate intensity of the quick draw contest that plays out in the opening pages, to the scene late at night when the Rawhide Kid leaps off the train, the art does a magnificent job detailing the action. Plus being part of the Max line, the book also has the ability to offer up some more graphic visuals, like the one page shot of the man taking the bullet when he loses the draw, or the wonderfully unnerving shot that acts as this issue's cliffhanger. I also have to give the art credit for its rather novel way of keeping the identity of the second gunman a secret up until the story is ready to reveal this person's face.
When one has seen as many Westerns as I have, then the plot to this issue is pretty familiar, as a gunslinger attempting to bring a killer to justice is the staple plot of almost every Western ever made, and having the killer(s) protected by a position of respectability, power, or money is also a classic hurdle the protagonist has to overcome. However, John Ostrander knows how to craft an engaging story using these staple plot elements, and what's more he throws a nice wild card into the mix, with the addition of the second gunslinger. The cliffhanger ending was also quite unexpected. Now unless the next issue opens with a fairly dramatic escape by the Rawhide Kid, then this issue has all but placed a noose around the neck of one of the big guns of Marvel's Old West characters, as the man is surrounded by hired guns who utterly failed at their job to protect the targeted son, and as such they'll be looking to prove their worth by bringing in a man who could easily be made to look like the man's killer. The future interaction between the Rawhide Kid & this second gunslinger should also make for a nice intense encounter.
What did you think of this book?
Have your say at the Line of Fire Forum!