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Apache Skies #4

Posted: Wednesday, November 6, 2002
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: John Ostrander
Artist: Leonardo Manco

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Plot:
The book opens with the Rawhide Kid able to keep Colonel Trask's group from boarding the train, and this group is forced to return to town, where they plan on making use of a faster train to catch up with the older train that the Rawhide Kid is using to make his escape, with the group of Apache children. As they make every effort to slow the advance of the train chasing them by tearing up sections of the tracks, we see these efforts simply aren't enough, and the Rawhide Kid comes to the conclusion that he'll have to confront his pursuers. To this end he picks a wooden bridge that spans a massive canyon, and armed with a barrel of gun powder, we see the Rawhide Kid unhooks the last two cars of his train, and rides atop them as they speed back down the track toward the train that's been chasing them. We then see him board the other train, and in a very risky move he stuffs the barrel full of gun powder down the smoking stack of this train. We then see him whip out his guns and he starts taking out the gun men that populate this train, but his showdown with Colonel Trask is brought to an abrupt finish when the front of the train explodes, and the bridge collapses. We then see the only person to make it off the train alive is the Rawhide Kid.

Comments:
Battles on speeding locomotives are a staple action scenario of the Western film, as we find it in classic Westerns like "How the West Was Won", to the modern day "Shanghai Noon". However, the comic book essentially affords an unlimited budget, and to this end this book takes the train battle climax become truly blockbuster finish, as we see the Rawhide Kid ends up doing battle atop a shaky wooden rail bridge, and wouldn't you know it he also saw to it that this bridge was on fire when he went out to fight on it. We also get some excitement from the fact that the Rawhide Kid tossed a barrel of gunpowder down the smoke stack of the train, which in turn made it into a ticking time bomb, and given the explosion is sure to send the train tumbling off the bridge into the canyon far below one has to admire the sense of urgency that John Ostrander created here. Now with today's technology I'm sure an explosive ending like this would be possible without breaking the bank, but it's comics like this that nicely remind the reader that comic writers have it good when it comes to writing their big endings, as they never have to worry about budget constraints, or the safety issues that such a bombastic ending would create.

The one thing this final issue didn't do is really develop Trask into a truly memorable baddie before John Ostrander went and killed the character. I mean the issues leading up to this encounter showed promise, and I was rather looking forward to the final showdown between the Rawhide Kid & Trask, as he looked to be one ruthless bastard who would give our hero a good run for his money. However, when the big showdown does arrive Trask is overwhelmed by the sheer chaos that John Ostrander has created around the two men, so when Trask is killed, his death is almost anticlimactic. However this is a problem I have with many big budget action films, where the big showdown between the hero & the main villain never quite lives up to the promise that was shown during the rest of the movie. Am I difficult to please? Probably, but then again there's nothing quite as rewarding as a story where the writer recognizes how important the big final battle is, and as such a hurried resolution should never be delivered to the reader. In this case however I think the final encounter between the Rawhide Kid & Trask was simply lost in the crowd, as John Ostrander went for the big train wrecking finish.

Leonardo Manco makes this book into something truly special, as while John Ostrander is a solid writer, and his story does a great job playing within the confines of the western genre, it's Leonardo Manco's that makes this book into a can't miss book in my eyes. His painted art is what made this book's big finish work so well, as the hellish setting of the final battle is perfectly captured by the art, and while his death was a bit too abrupt for my liking, there's no denying that from a visual sense, Trask get one fantastic looking sendoff into the afterlife. The art also captures the sheer immensity of the scene where an entire train is sent tumbling off the bridge, as the Rawhide Kid is busy making his mad dash not to be on this train as it tumbles over the side. The one-page shot of the Rawhide Kid atop the back of the other train is also a great visual, and the final encounter that the father has with his son as he tumbles to his death is delightfully creepy. There's also a great shot of the Rawhide Kid amidst the smoking ruins of what's left of the bridge, and the last page shot of this comic is also an impressive visual. Another fine looking cover as well, as it's a great movie poster style visual.

Final Word:
This final issue is notable largely due to the fact that John Ostrander came up with a truly cinematic ending for his latest Western adventure, and Leonardo Manco's art does an absolutely stunning job of presenting this explosive ending. Now this big, impressive ending did serve to make the final showdown between the Rawhide Kid & Colonel Trask a bit less important that it really should've been, and the new Apache Kid is left largely in an observer role in this issue, as the Rawhide Kid performs his heroic efforts all by his lonesome. However, John Ostrander continues to show himself as the premier writer when it comes to delivering a western comic, as Apache Skies can proudly stand along side Blaze of Glory & the Kents, as a shining example that the western genre still has legs, at least with John Ostrander at the helm. The wonderfully terse dialogue exchanges, the supercharged gun play, and the big, over the top finish made this miniseries more than worth a look.



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