When the role-playing game Deadlands first arrived in the 1990s, it was a game ahead of its time. A Weird Western when that genre was still little known, it also combined magic, steampunk, zombies, vampires, and an X-Files style mystery into one setting. The game rules were always bizarre, in some cases leading to players stopping in the middle of combat to break out a deck of cards and play a hand of poker against evil spirits as they tried slinging a hex at some ne'er do well. The crazy rules may be why, to my great regret, I was never able to pull together enough people to actually play the game, but I greatly enjoyed the source materials and reading the storylines.
Deadland’s current owner, Pinnacle Games, is making a big marketing push on the game again, releasing a tabletop game (Battle for Slaughter Gulch, which I hope to review soon) and a series of one shot comics published through Image. The first, The Devil’s Sixgun, tells some of the backstory for the weird science / magic that is throughout the game’s story, particularly Ghost Rock. Ghost Rock is glowing green stone that is found at the site of calamities scattered through the West (such as the remains of California, most of which dropped into the Pacific in an earthquake). It gets its name from the strange haunting sounds that it lets off when burned. What science has yet to understand is that the rock is actually haunted, and evil spirits emerge whenever it is used. Enter Copernicus Blackburne, star of this tale, who is engaged by a mysterious industrialist to create a Ghost Rock gun that could kill the Devil himself.
The story and art were interesting enough, and if this were a stand-alone comic I may have enjoyed it more. I eagerly sought out this book expecting to find a western, but instead found a tale of a tormented Czech inventor struggling to save his soul while working with magic. I opened the book expecting Cormac McCarthy, or at least Joe Lansdale, and got Vaclav Havel instead. The only hint that this is associated with the west is a single frame showing a covered wagon entering Salt Lake City. Besides this, almost nothing in the story says western to me. Deadlands, yes, but not the West.
|Note that almost none of this comic takes place in this map.|
The book does a nice job of setting up some of the story behind Ghost Rock, so it is a nice introduction to that part of the Deadlands setting. The backup story, with a young Billy the Kid facing off against a supernatural gunslinger, was also fun, and will be picked up in the next of the one shots due out in July, this time by the writers of the Jonah Hex comic. I’ll be back with more news on the resurgence of Deadlands.