As previously reported, I love Westerns. When it comes to comics I gobble up most anything I can find that finds it's setting on the mid-left coast. My meals are often paltry, but I enjoy it just the same.
Much like a certain chair-debating Western film icon, the genre has lost its grip on reality. As much as I love comics like The Sixth Gun and The Guns of Shadow Valley, it seems that we can't get a story set in the Old West that doesn't have a spaceship, zombie or vampire lurking about. Is the age of the hardboiled Western behind us?
Tall Tales from the Badlands says no. The second edition of the anthology put together by Sean and Seamus Fahey builds on the success of the first one: strong characters and poignant stories about family. Regrettably, the comic shares some shortcomings also. Let's get to it then —
"A Nation of Laws"
(Sean Fahey/Borja "Borch" Pena)
Like Tall Tales #1, this comic starts with its best offering. Written by Sean Fahey, "A Nation of Laws" begins with small-town sheriff, Matt, confronting a lynch mob and refusing to hand over a murderer held within his jail. As Matt later explains, he is sick of the lawlessness of the west, and longs for the order of judge and jury. The story gives the lawman what he wishes for, but with unintended results.
I can imagine real-life lawyer Fahey felt compelled to do a story like this, and it works on a lot of levels. The West is typically imagined as a lawless place, where ruthlessness and corruption are commonplace. "A Nation of Laws" approaches a territory that not many Westerns broach: law and order. Our protagonist quickly learns his wish for due process does not mean justice or even a fair trial. It's hard to achieve character development in a short story, but Fahey manages to show a notable change here.
Borch is back. I loved Pena's art in the first comic, and he delivers a super-tight, emotive piece here. His work with gestures and anatomy is spot on and overall the quality is extremely high. Perhaps the sublime feature to Borja Pena's work is its slightly animated slant, allowing it both function in the grit of the west and still feel like a comic book.
The rule of "no more than 25 words a bubble" rule is broken many times in the second half of this story. Lots of law jargon is tossed about freely and it feels rushed. The story might have worked a tad better with more space, but I understand that's like saying a portrait would look better as a mural.
"The Great Wall"
(Sean Fahey/Giannis Milonogiannis)
The second story in Badlands is set in the familiar background of San Francisco, a late-era western that focuses on the uniting of East and West and the forming of a country.
The art in this story stands apart from the others because it is much more wispy and sparse than the rest. Giannis Milonogiannis approaches the story by making the reader focus on the people rather than objects or setting. The guy is certainly capable of some serious rendering, but the creative choice here to scale things down gives the story its own feel.
This one is also by Sean Fahey and involves an aging Chinese railworker telling his grandson the role he played in helping bind the country through the train system. It's a touching piece, but suffers from being a little stagnant, choosing to stay in one place and showing us flashbacks through photos. There is opportunity for some powerful scenery, but the decision to keep the action in a booth does seem purposeful.
(Nick Nunziata/Carlos Trigo)
The story "Paw" is a bit of an odd duck. For one, it kind of lacks a lead character, as the titular Paw is certainly the central focus, but barely speaks and hardly shows any depth. The story begins with the accidental murder of a child during a gunfight, and turns into a revenge story with a weak twist.
Trigo's animated pencils create a tension with this dark tale, which doesn't very well. Trigo has as much talent as anyone else in this book, but it's hard to accept the rounder, more accentuated style up against the edgier plot. Additionally, the key climatic moment is not clearly depicted, and the action is pretty confusing. That could be either creator's fault, but it's mutually detrimental.
Writer Nick Nunziata, owner of CHUD.com, had the framework of a good idea but the story lacks structure and could have used some tightening. Couple that with the art choice and "Paw" failed to achieve what I think it wanted.
"The Fastest Way From Here to There"
(Seamus Kevin Fahey/Pablo Peppino)
In the last issue of this anthology the only story I really found myself disliking was "The Runt", which I felt like was an aimless story about a dog who happened to be in the West. Unless it's Milo & Otis or Animal Farm I find it hard to get into a story with a creature as the protagonist.
This short by Seamus Kevin Fahey details a horse's life, I think. There is no dialogue, and thus it's hard to gauge any semblance of time passed. The narrative follows the horse as it changes owners and eventually manages to gain freedom, not from any action of its own, but just dumb, blind luck.
The pencils by Pablo Peppino are quite good. Sturdy, energetic,
but without much plot action it's hard to really take notice.
(Sean Fahey/Ger Curti)
The anthology caps off with its second best offering, a clever and tense tale about a man fed up with his station in life and an opportunity to change it through seedy practices.
Sean Fahey ends "Inside Man" on a very intriguing note, making it the best story in terms of conclusion. The concept of a man stuck in a dead end job speaks to many people, and it's certainly not exclusive to our century. This one also suffers a little bit from wordiness, but the dialogue is fairly tight and the characters interesting so it slides down easy.
Ger Curti is another talented artist that drops some sick pages for Tall Tales From the Badlands #2. What I appreciate most about Curti's approach is his use of the entire panel, rendering backgrounds and making excellent use of shading and negative space.
"Inside Man" made me notice a common string in the three stories by Sean Fahey: they're all focused on the shifting of the west from unlegislated frontier to developed society. "A Nation of Laws" reveals the fallacy in bureaucracy, "The Great Wall" focuses on the railroads and changing race relations of America and the last story sows the seed of big business, which only kind of influences everyday life for just about everyone, everywhere. The eye toward the development of America is noticeable, but was it intentional?
Generally, I really like a lot of what I see in this issue. The art overall is extremely sound, and for the most part the stories are complete and get the point across. Collectively, the comic is worth a look for anyone into a straightforward western.
Jamil Scalese is just like you — an avid comics reader and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, devotee of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation. Check out his original, ongoing webcomic And Then There Were Zombies and follow his subpar tweeting at @jamilscalese.