Westerns once ruled the comics shelves. Now, by my count, the only western comics consistently put out by major publishers are Jonah Hex and Lone Ranger (assuming you can count Dynamite as a major comics publisher). One group that has not let the genre die in comics is Image, who has been producing an anthology called Outlaw Territory.
With two volumes out (and hopefully more to come), Outlaw Territory is a collection of short, eight page stories, each with its own take on the Western. Some are funny, some are sexy, most are bloody and gritty. There are some heavy hitter names in Outlaw Territory, like Mike Baron, Len Wein, Greg Pak, Robert Kirkman, Sean Chen, and Steve Grant.
The quality of the stories is, well, pretty mixed, particularly in the first volume. It is clear that some of the artists have very little sense of the period. Too often you see a sixgun being gripped like a Glock- I know that is picky, but it always tells me that the artist isn’t really a western fan so much as someone looking for a commission. In a few cases the creators really lack a grasp of the period. One story from volume one involved a disgraced Hessian soldier losing himself in the saloons of the west. The story involved a revolver, introduced in the 1830’s, and since the Hessian was made out ot have fought in the American Revolution that puts his age somewhere around 70, although he was a best middle aged in the story. Mistakes like that can really detract from the book.
|One reason I love Ballad of a Bad Man|
Enough of the bad parts, though. There are enough gems tucked away in each volume of Outlaw Territory to make it work the $20 investment. My personal favorite from Volume 1 is “Ballad of a Bad Man” by Joe Kelley, Max Fiumara, and Thomas Mauer, a story told in verse about a scared young boy and the scarred gunslinger he tracks down. Quick and crisp, it nicely blends sex and violence with sharp tug at your heartstrings, and is easily one of my favorite comics stories from 25+ years of comics collecting.
Although none of the individual stories in Volume 2 are quite of the level of Ballad of a Bad Man”, the second volume is stronger over all. Three great stories, “Rustling Up Business”, “Cherokee Bill”, and “Cold Blood!” open the book, and the books keeps going strong throughout. The story that stands out the most for me, however, is the crazed “They’ll Bury You Where You Stand” by Jeremy Barlow and Dustin Weaver. Any story where by the end you still can’t decide if the “hero” is Satan or an angel is definitely memorable.
I hope to pick up Volume 3 when it is available. Hell, I hope to contribute to this anthology one day. Any artists out there interested in collaborating?