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Apache Skies #2

Posted: Saturday, August 31, 2002
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Leonardo Manco

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Plot:
The book opens with the Rawhide Kid caught up in a gunfight that he wanted to prevent, as the new Apache Kid went and gunned down the man who had killed her husband. After the Rawhide Kid manages to take down all six law officers who were set off after the Apache Kid killed the man they had been hired to protect, we see him team-up with the Apache Kid as they get the heck out of town. However, while they do manage to set loose the town's entire stable of horses, thus discouraging any immediate pursuit we see the Rawhide Kid is tagged with a bullet, that has him falling unconscious out of his saddle a few hours later. As the Apache Kid tends to his wound, we see a curious Rawhide Kid is able to learn how the woman hooked up with his late friend, and we see that her reckless behavior is largely driven by a crushing sense of guilt, as she and her husband had a falling out over how to deal with the encroaching expansion of the white men, and he was killed before she could make him understand that she still loved him. Meanwhile, back in the town that they fled we see the train has delivered a group of ruthless killers who have been hired by the murdered man's father to hunt down his son's murderers.

Comments:
I have to admit I'm quite partial to the Western, as in my life I imagine I've sat through no less than a couple of hundred Westerns, and as such you might imagine I'm quite familiar with the conventions of the genre. However, while this familiarity might lead to disinterest, and even predictability, I find that that the Western does hold some intangible quality that has me willing to enter each story with a fresh set of eyes, and more often than not I'm usually surprised by the direction the story takes. Take this latest effort by John Ostrander (the John Ford of the Western comic), as we have a plot that involves a pair of gunslingers out to avenge the unjust death of a man, but by the end of the first issue we see the guilty party is lying dead in the street, and by the end of this issue the hunters have become the hunted, as they have a ruthless posse on their trail. Now the plot elements may be well worn, but they still have the ability to keep me entertained, and John Ostrander has been in the game for long enough that there's never any doubt that he'll be able to put it all together in a highly entertaining fashion. In the end we have a very solid package, that in my eyes can do no wrong.

The one key element of the Western that this comic can't seem to capture is chaos of the classic scene where the guns come out & the bullets start flying. I mean in the opening pages of this book we see the Rawhide Kid finds himself in a situation where he's outnumbered six to one, and he manages to take them all out without getting so much a whiff of return fire. Oh sure we see their guns going off as his bullets strike them, but surely John Ostrander isn't asking us to believe that he's that fast. It also doesn't help matters much that the new Apache Kid is basically a stationary target in the middle of the line of fire, and except for an errant shot that passes in front of her face we see she also has extraordinary luck, as the attacking deputies display an ability not to hit their target that makes Stormtroopers look like marksmen. I realize that he only had so many pages to resolve this conflict, but it's hard to get too excited about a good old-fashioned Western gunfire when it calls upon the reader to accept that the men our hero is gunning down never stood the slightest chance of hitting him. At least have him ducking behind a water trough as it's riddled with bullets.

As I mentioned above the art is a bit shaky when it come to convey the frantic action of the gunfight, but that's about the only complaint that I'd make about this art, as Leonardo Manco is turning out some truly amazing work. Now I understand that he might not be the fastest artist, but I continue to be surprised that Marvel still hasn't gotten him a more high profile assignment, as his work deserves to be recognized. Now he might very well be picking his projects based on how they appeal to his interests, rather than the ones that would earn him more fanfare, and if this is the case then this is admirable, and given his past projects have all been ones that I've found highly appealing I'll happily accept this status quo. Still, when I see the sheer effectiveness of the page where the new Apache Kid riddles the dead body of her husband's killer with bullets, or the chilling look at the group of killers that will be pursuing them, I find myself wishing that his work was earning more acclaim. There's also the stampede out of town, and the last page shot of the lead hunter, that perfectly conveys the idea that this miniseries may be the Rawhide Kid's last kick at the can.

Final Word:
A good old-fashioned Western, that packs a little more bite than the average Western comic, as we do see a dead body ripped apart by slugs, and an equally chilling display of how utterly ruthless the group sent after our heroes are. Now I must confess that I'm not all that well-versed with Marvel's Western heroes, as my knowledge of the Rawhide Kid is limited to the handful of guest-appearances he's made when the Avengers made their little jaunts into the Old West. However, the character does look to be your average Western do-gooder, as he makes an active effort not to kill the law men, even though they weren't about to return the favor. As for the new Apache Kid, she's a conflicted character, who looks quite willing to shoot before thinking of what happens after the bullets start flying, and this should make for an interesting partnership. The villains of the piece also look like they'll be evil enough to keep the intensity level quite high.



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