This is the second volume of reprints of the weird 1980s series written by the wonderful comic writer Steve Englehart. Coyote is a dizzying mix of superhero action, Native American mythology and strange mysticism, all wrapped up a glossy sheen by a mixed bag of artists.
This description makes the book sound fun, which it mostly is, but the comic also trips over its own cleverness. And ‘trip’ is the word to use here, because this book has a heady and distracting sense of surrealism about it. Englehart seemed to be breaking away from the bag of tricks he developed at Marvel in the 1970s, working on having transitions be more like real life, jarring and confusing, while emphasizing the sometimes shifting sands of relationships. There are two sisters in this comic, Cassie and NaTalia, who show this well. They are sisters, but one is black and one white. One is a sort of coyote like the main character and the other is human. At one point NaTalia pretends to be Cassie so she and Coyote can have a tryst, and the ramifications of that play out throughout the rest of this book. The relationship between these three characters is tangled and complex and Englehart doesn’t stop to let readers catch up. A reader never knows where these characters stand with each other. And that exemplifies both the strength and weakness of this book.
Coyote himself is a character who shifts with the winds. As the literal coyote god of southwestern Native American mythology, Coyote seems to be playing games within games within games. As he infiltrates the bizarre Shadow Cabinet as the human Sly Santagelo, Coyote seems to be playing games with himself and those he is tracking. That gives the character a feeling of roguishness, but also gives the comic a sense of lost moorings. Those lost moorings, coupled with the rushing plot, often makes this book tough to follow. As a reader I wanted the comic to slow down just a little from its headfast rush to present yet another big scene. Perhaps the style of this comic is a bit too much of its era, or perhaps writer Englehart was being deliberately obscure, but all this shifting and changing becomes really hard to follow by the end.
Englehart isn’t helped by the shifting artists. Steve Leialoha delivers some terrific art in the first two chapters, but other commitments dragged him away from the rest of the series. It’s a shame because Leialoha’s angular and emotional art gave some real depth to the relationships of the characters in this book. It’s a perfect comic for Leialoha to show his underground comics roots, since the sex and violence in his issues is a bit over the top.
Jackson Guice drew issue 3 early in his career, and his art is a major step down from Leialoha’s here. His art isn’t bad; it just looks raw and a bit undefined here. He would obviously get much, much better over time. The fourth issue begins the run by Chas Truog, best known as the artist on Grant Morrison’s Animal Man, and his art has a manic intensity that Guice doesn’t present, though he shares Guice’s awkwardness.
Overall this is a really intriguing comic, and I look forward to the next volumes. I just hope that Englehart slows down the story a bit.