IDW, 2009, 492 pages, $24.99
Review by Steve Vernon
There just isn’t enough weird western fiction out there.
Still, Jeff Marriotte’s comic book series Desperadoes goes a long way towards remedying that sad situation.
I came across the series by accident, picking up a graphic novel of the third episode in the series, Quiet of the Grave illustrated by John Severin. I immediately fell in love with the saga and begen hunting the local comic book stores, trying to track down the rest of the series. Unfortunately, the comic distribution network here in Halifax, Nova Scotia, leaves a lot to be desired.
Oh sure, I could have easily hunted it up through Amazon or Abebooks, but I am one of those peculiar old farts who prefers to buy his comics strictly over the counter. So when I spotted a copy of Desperadoes Omnibus, a book containing every issue since its debut back in 1997 – I promptly stampeded over the little old woman and her blind seeing-eye dog, (whose name was Melvin), and snatched this puppy up.
The book, not Melvin.
The book is a collection of five separate graphic novels that originally appeared in comic book format. The first story, “A Moment’s Sunlight,” illustrated by John Cassaday, is a fascinating yarn that brings our four heroes together as they try and track down a frontier serial killer with the strange gift of a killing aura and ghost-walking kind of invisibility. It is an eerie yarn and a fine way to kick off the series.
The second story, “Epidemic,” also illustrated by Cassaday, is a short cosmic tale of the hunger of certain elder gods. The two stories are separated by a nifty little one-off that keeps the momentum rolling along like a cavalry charge.
The third story, “The Quiet of the Grave,” was the first I read of the series and it still remains my favorite. Perhaps it is because I have read it so many times over the years that I cannot visualize any other artist – but I still feel that Severin’s strong bold rendition of these characters does justice to a simple and solid back-from-the-dead tale of revenge. From the opening scene in a Mexican cantina one can almost here the Spanish guitar’s wistfully fingered notes drawing you into the story.
The fourth tale, “Banners of Gold,” illustrated by Jeremy Haun, was an interesting tale of old west mysticism. The artwork left a little to be desired, in my opinion. Haun’s work seemed a little disproportionate and awkward.
The fifth and final tale, “Buffalo Dreams,” illustrated by Alberto Dose, seemed to suffer from a bit of under-scripting. There was a lot more tale that needed to be told, and it had the feeling as if it had been forced a little bit. Alberto Dose’s style, reminiscent of early Heavy Metal was bold and even sensual in spots, and the story itself was intriguing and thought-provoking, but it left me feeling as if it needed a bit more space.
Desperadoes, as a whole, is an enthralling and exciting series. The stories always take you on new journeys and I found myself deeply invested with the characters as they were portrayed. I recommend this collection for anyone who hankers to read some good and honest eerie western fiction. Desperadoes is the best thing that has ridden down the ghosts-and-gunfight trail in a very long time.