Writer/Artist: Kazu Kibuishi
Publisher: Viper Comics
If you’ve watched even a small share of Westerns, I’m sure you’ve digested this plot at least once: a notorious gunslinger decides to call it quits, settles down and gets busy living a legit (in other words, boring) life. Unfortunately, unforeseen circumstances and the persistent exhortations from other individuals force the gunslinger to perform “one last job.” Essentially, this is the plot of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. It’s also a plot carried over ad nauseum into other genres (i.e. a mob movie like Things to do in Denver When You’re Dead). And it is the plot of Kazu Kibuishi’s 153 page manga-sized black-and-white four chapter story Daisy Kutter: The Last Train.
Although the “gunslinger pulled out of retirement for one last job” plot is derivative, it nevertheless remains compelling IF engaging elements are thrown into the mix…, and Daisy Kutter does just that. Instead of being gruff, grizzled and squinty-eyed, the retired gunslinger in this story is a gruff, “girl with the curl” (quite literally), carrying a shotgun whose length and power really qualify it as portable artillery. Instead of enjoying the charms of a virtuous town school teacher, Daisy Kutter has to suffer the unwanted romantic determination of her ex-partner-in-crime Tom, who’s turned his life around and become the town sheriff. His square personality is emphasized by his squarely-drawn head. Instead of being situated in 19th century Tombstone, Arizona or Deadwood, South Dakota, Daisy Kutter takes place in some unspecified time and place, where telephones, radios, security guard robots, holographic machines and enormous Mechanized battle armor occupy the expected wide-open Western genre vistas, saloons, general stores and gambling halls. The story doesn’t explain this strange juxtaposition of futuristic technology and Old West settings, and to be honest, an explanation isn’t necessary because the bottom line is that visually, this mix works incredibly well.
This book will hook you. Each chapter establishes a situation that keeps you reading until its resolution. The entire story is decompressed. I categorize decompression in two ways: “Lazy” decompression and “Cinematic” decompression. Lazy decompression finds ways to lengthen trite moments over several pages for the sole purpose of padding a 40 page story into a 100 page one. Cinematic decompression draws out a story’s important moments in order to dictate the pace at which the reader experiences the story as if the reader is at the movie theatre watching a story unfold “in time.” Lazy decompression has a shortage of panels; it showcases (often laughably) ineffective and unnecessary splash and double splash pages. A page of Cinematic decompression, on the other hand, can typically have more than eight panels on it where dialogue is sparse and panels get duplicated in order to provide the illusion of time transpiring on a page of static images. Daisy Kutter demonstrates Cinematic decompression. The story’s third chapter exclusively focuses on “the job” that Daisy has been hired to perform. It takes place on a moving train and of course, everything hits the fan. This chapter displays the pacing and choreography of a well-made action movie.
Yes, the pacing is cinematic, the elements of the story are clever and intriguing, but it is Daisy Kutter herself who drives this book. The book is tremendously charming because of her. Despite retaining all the appropriate Western genre masculine traits (she is a proficient gambler, she’s quick-tempered, she’s socially aloof, she’s skilled at gunplay), Daisy remains decidedly feminine. Her openness, confidence, resilience and independent spirit are utterly attractive. But she's no "super-hero," no invincible Amazon. She is vulnerable but not frail. She is desperate but not needy. Her charisma is also the product of the way she’s drawn. Her figure is demure, her hair is girlishly cute, and more often than not, her mouth and nose are simple curved lines. The art style throughout the book is quite cartoonish, which helps eliminate any nihilistic subtext that Western stories often have. Daisy finds herself in some dire situations by the end of this book, but because of the nature of the artwork, I never felt like I was reading some grim amoral tale. That’s a good thing because ultimately the attraction of this book is Daisy’s simple appeal and self-assurance that she can handle any problem thrown her way.
Daisy Kutter: The Last Train reaffirmed my faith in comic book story-telling, and I can’t wait to read it again.
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