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Sunday Slugfest: Gunplay GN Preview

Posted: Sunday, March 9, 2008
By: Keith Dallas

Jorge Vega and Priest
Dominic Vivona
Platinum Studios Comics
The Gunplay graphic novel will arrive in stores in April.

Bryant Frattalone: 4 Bullets
Christopher Power: 4 Bullets
Geoff Collins: 4 Bullets
Bruce Logan: 2.5 Bullets





Bryant Frattalone 4 Bullets

Plot: A Buffalo soldier wanders the plains in the closing days of the old west saddled with a curse and picks up other troubles along the way.

Commentary: Gunplay and the character of Abner obviously take their inspiration from Stephen King's Gunslinger of Dark Tower fame. I mean with the lone protagonist and the picking up of "the boy," it's pretty blatant. There is the undercurrent of the supernatural at play, especially in an effective nightmare sequence which appears to show the conflict between Abner's hoodoo and Native American demonism. When I first read the description for Gunplay, right off the bat I tagged it as The Gunslinger combined with Ghost Rider. Those elements are at play here but what Vega, Vivona and Priest bring to the table is an ethnic perspective, and they are not afraid to accurately portray the prejudices and mores of the day and time they are depicting. It makes the story that much more grounded in reality and that much more of a horror tale as we see normal people at their worst displaying that which is most repugnant in all of us. They include a corrupt preacher and his "son" (whom we're not all that convinced he really is and if he is it's all the more disturbing what father does to son during their wagon ride). I get indignant with the continually negative portrayal of preachers and Christians in the media as Biblical truth is the last bastion of morality that we have; however, in all fairness this segment of society is open game in the context of the story as no one is safe from Vega and Priest's commentary or ire. Not the white man, the red man, or the Christian man. All men at their best are vain, and from Otter, Buck and Satch to the two townsmen in rocking chairs, none of these characters are at their best.

The story is a period piece told from the perspective of black historians. And if the "Priest" who penned the Penny Dreadful back-up story is the same "Priest" who wrote Black Panther for Marvel a few years back we are in not only for relevance but accuracy from this perspective. That Priest was an intelligent writer turning T'Challa into a force to be reckoned with in the Marvel Universe, and in fact, his prose here is the strongest part of this whole preview. I was almost going to say I didn't care enough to read the entire graphic novel that's coming out, but Priest's ending chapters to this preview peeked my interest all the more. Vega's tale lands us in the middle of Abner's saga while Priest's gives us some much needed background into the pasts and histories of the story's main characters. Everyone involved here really milks the trappings of the period piece they are trying to portray including old western dialogue and the aforementioned "Penny Dreadful" segment. The Western lettering throughout is neat too. You can tell a lot of thought and care went into this production, so it's no wonder it won the "Create a Comic Book Challenge" boasted on the cover. It is a worthy effort and the story and art do evoke our emotions. So if you are a sucker for well done period pieces with a smattering of supernatural flavor combined with a tale of redemption and frontier justice then you will be well pleased with Gunplay. The art is fitting for the tale at hand and Vivona gives us a haunting visual of what's to come with the spirits in the smoke coming out of Abner's cursed pistol. We don't really learn much on that score but Priest's back up material gives us a bit more to tempt us into returning for the full package of the Graphic Novel. If you like period pieces seasoned with the supernatural and competently told tales of fear and redemption, this is a book for you.

Final Word: Reminiscent of stories that have gone before but so well executed and injected with realistic voices and emotion it begs the reader to come back into Abner's world to see his fate.




Christopher Power: 4 Bullets

Gunplay is a methodical, thoughtful book that spends a great deal of time building an atmosphere. Having only read the first chapter of the trade paperback, I feel that one would not have wanted to read this book in a monthly format. It moves fairly slowly, building the backdrop of the late 1800s in the old west. With the story flowing from the present, where our main protagonist is introduced removing the arm of a young white boy, to a small trip in the past where the boy and those who will likely play a larger role in the story are introduced. The story includes some of the classic western saga characters, the snake oil salesman, the Confederate loyalists and the casual observers on the porch. All of these could be considered clichés, but Vega manages to capture the same feel of the great western saga in the same way that Kirkman captures the zombie genre. At any moment you could see Clint Eastwood or John Wayne making an appearance in the book without it feeling out of place.

There is clearly a great deal going on in the background of this story. There are three months missing between the present and the flashbacks, and somehow the protagonist, referred to only through a term which is racially charged slur in the U.S. and the U.K., has moved from being captured and thrown in prison to being on the road and dismembering a boy. Now, this does not sound like a hero of any kind, but instead the villain of the story, and it would be very easy to place the character in that role. However, there are several things that leave the interpretation open, and this is where the story becomes immensely clever.

First, the protagonist is wearing a Yankee uniform. It is not a torn or stolen uniform, but the art conveys it as well pressed and clean. Somehow, this man was left behind or was sent behind enemy lines. He is a soldier, not a criminal. Secondly, the artist and writer are very careful to never show the boy’s arm before it is cut off. There is a chance that the cutting of the limb was to save the boy’s life during a time when medicine was poor and accidents were common. Also, why tend to the boy’s fear and pain before beginning the procedure? This is not something someone would do in torture. The clever part is that we really have no idea what is going on in this book, and this may be complete misinterpretation of the character, at least until we find out more.

Finally, there is a dream sequence where the protagonist is shown to be saving another boy, only to be betrayed and attacked by wolves. Very powerful art conveys a sense of awe and wonder in the spirit world.

Overall, not a lot happens in this book, but it opens a ton of great possibilities. I will be picking up the entire trade to find out the rest of the story. It feels as if there is a deep, powerful story emerging in this dusty backdrop of an old western countryside.




Geoff Collins 4 Bullets

This definitely sold me on buying the graphic novel next month. It's well worth the dollar it costs, whereas there are a lot of comics that I don’t want to read for free. If the book is as good as I'm hoping it'll be, I'd put it just a rung below the best old-west comics like Jonah Hex and Dark Tower. Fans of the latter comic should definitely read this because though this is a western, it's also centered on magic.

As much as I like it, it is pretty confusing and vague. The scenes are non chronological and don't show enough to answer a lot of questions readers will inevitably ask, "Who is this?" "Why did he do that?" and "How did they get here?" Each scene is tagged with a date in 1868, going in this order: June 4, March 3, June 4, June 1, and back to June 4. Though the flashback scenes do help answer who the characters are in the June 4 scenes, they don’t explain any how's or why's for that scene. But the curiosity created by that makes me want to buy the graphic novel even more.

Some of the questions left by the vagueness of the comic portion are answered in the prose portion. So if you do pick this up, make sure to read the short prose stories that follow up the comic. The comic doesn’t explain what the soldier featured in the June 4 scenes is doing wandering the deserts alone, but one of the prose stories details him killing missionaries, which fits the comic because he saws off the arm of a missionary in the opening scene.

One point of interest in this story is that the preview shows what are supposed to be the main characters, but it doesn't show any heroes. There are missionaries, but as a wise man in The Office once said, a hero is someone who kills people, and I doubt they killed people, so they're not heroes. If you read the opening synopsis, it sounds like the black soldier is the hero, but he has a penchant for going Bind, Torture, Kill on religious men so he's arguably a bad person.

It’s an ugly story where everyone seems like a bad person and the images of the characters fit the tone—dirty and ugly. Though it's not highly detailed art, I am impressed by it and the images shown are enough to make me cringe—bloody nubs, body fluids, breaking teeth, and a villain with a hair lip.

Though I like the comic a lot, there isn't a lot of emotional range in it. It's well written and well illustrated, but I'm not expecting anything other than just a western/horror story.




Bruce Logan: 2.5 Bullets

Exclamation: "Uhhhh…"

Examination (Story): Gunplay is an 88 page, full color graphic novel. I had the opportunity to read a preview of the first 22 pages. The good thing is it reads like the first part of a (possibly) cohesive story. The bad thing is, well, it reads like the first part of a (possibly) cohesive story. Even having read it twice, I can't say for certain if this is the start of a good or bad story. Having to make a choice, I'd caution towards the bad.

Given that I only read the first part of the entire story, it was a given that I was mostly reading set-up and exposition. After all, this forms the foundation for the rest of the story. What this means is that it introduces the various characters with special attention to the main protagonist(s). What it doesn't do is make the introductions in a way that facilitates the organic and fluid development of the basic plotline. And speaking of the basic plotline, uh, that is another thing that this issue fails to convey.

So we have a post U.S. Civil War setting, a time when racial discrimination was (openly) rampant in the States, and one of the main two starring characters is a black soldier. So what? Except for having ready made instances of white folk peeing and beating on the poor fella, what else do we have? Not much. Same goes for the other guy, the white teenager who starts the issue with having his right arms sawed off by the black ex-soldier and ends it with his father (at least it seems to be his father) grabbing his nuts in an iron grip and squeezing the sweat out of him.

There are a couple of pages where the black soldier is having a nightmare. Although initially interesting, it doesn't pan out to much because there isn't much of a reveal about them. Although it might work in the overall story it doesn't do much for what happens here. Not even the smallest sliver to retain the reader's interest that the visuals grab.

More interesting than the main story is the three backup prose mini-tales. Bringing up the rear, these six pages add almost as much to the characters and the plotline as the entire issue before it.

Examination (Art): The artwork of Gunplay is good enough, meaning neither is it going to blow the readers away nor is it going to make them smash their heads against the nearest hard surface. The best part about it is the expressive feel it gives to the characters. The weakest? The rather bland backgrounds.

Proclamation: Will I read another "issue" of Gunplay? Only if I get it as a free copy. I'd much rather advise waiting until the entire Graphic Novel comes out before giving it a go.

You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net








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