Writer: Jay Busbee
Artist: Ryan Bodenheim, Stefani Rennee (colors)
Publisher: Arcana Studios
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sundown Arizona is a three issue mini-series, the first issue of which will be released on July 20.
Most independent comic books that come my way are clever in concept but flawed in execution. The premise of the story will be intelligent and interesting, but the manner in which the story is presented will have some glaring (and ultimately, damning) deficiency: execrable dialogue, hideously slow pacing, nonexistent characterization, gaudy coloring, lack of backgrounds in the artwork, no visual “punch.” There will always be something that will force me to write, “I like the premise of this comic book, but…”
With Sundown: Arizona, however, there is no “but.” This is an impressive book in nearly every aspect: the story is set up well and progresses efficiently, the conflict is intriguing, the characters are clearly defined, the coloring is magnificent, the artwork presents the events of the issue cleanly and dynamically, and the issue ends with a situation that compels me to buy the next issue.
Yes, Sundown Arizona is that good.
Here’s what it’s about: In 1880 William Dalton, crime reporter for the New York Herald, travels to Sobrante, Arizona to investigate the serial killings of preachers throughout that area. He meets up with his brother, Clay, the sheriff of Sobrante and together, the two of them try to solve the mystery of these butcherings. Through Clay, Will learns that something supernaturally horrific is at work here.
That brief description really doesn’t do the issue justice because it neglects some inspiring narrative and visual aspects of the issue. For instance, the manner in which the issue opens, pulling us back to 1880 by regressing Arizona from a black-topped land of strip malls to a wide open, barren desert in four successive panels is a novel way to begin a comic book story. This opening also helps establish the environmental realities of an Arizona before the advent of air conditioning. The hellish qualities of the American Southwest are emphasized throughout the issue. I also enjoyed the interaction between Will and Clay. Much of their banter is clever and humorous (especially when Clay provides Will with Sobrante‘s “finest” sleeping accommodations). I was prepared for the clichéd “brothers who can’t stand each other but must now work together” tension, but their relationship seems refreshingly natural. Any conflict between them involves their father, but it’s not strong enough to create any terrible rift.
The visuals that most impressed me were a splash page of a murdered preacher (a haunting image) and the rain-soaked action sequence closing the issue. And I cannot praise Stefani Rennee enough for his vivid coloring work. He separated the elements in every panel magnificently. I’ll put it this way: Rennee made the issue into something I wanted to flip through numerous times.
Not all is perfect with this issue, to be sure: Clay too much resembles Logan/Wolverine, a more distinctive font should have been used for Will‘s journal captions, and near the beginning of the issue, there’s a poor transition into a double spread page (I’m not sure who is attacking Will there…, but maybe that‘s the point). These are all minor quibbles though because all in all, Sundown: Arizona #1 is an enthralling book. It certainly made me eager to read issues #2 and #3.
In 1880, reporter William Dalton comes to the town of Sobrante, Arizona to investigate a series of grisly murders. Preachers are being killed and mutilated. Dalton’s also looking forward to seeing his brother Clay, the sheriff of Sobrante. When another preacher is killed, William learns there’s something supernatural in the state. And Clay’s more than familiar with the supernatural.
For a comic taking place in 1880, William wears very modern clothes. His shirt doesn’t even have buttons! It’s mainly his purple coat and mauve pants. I can’t imagine any man, even a city-slicker, wearing clothes like that in the 19th Century.
Details aside, the comic’s not bad. Most of the issue is spent on how small towns are dying out after their mines run dry, and William and Clay arguing about family matters. The supernatural elements don’t enter the book until the end, which makes for a nice surprise twist. The art is solid, but it looks like shadows and computer coloring were used to cut corners.
Not a bad book. It’s a good premise for a mini-series. And I’m curious to see Clay’s explanation.
Oh, a supernatural western. Another supernatural western. Great. Except there’s got to be something worthwhile in the setting for it to be so popular, and the creative team here seem to have found it; they’ve done a good enough job that they more than justify another entry in the genre.
Clichés of course abound; at the end of the day this is a limited genre, and you can’t really get away from the tropes associated with it. There are some parts of the script that seem to come straight from the Big Book Of Cowboy Dialogue Clichés, and the art has its unimaginative moments, but the comic succeeds despite this, largely due to the confidence and skill with which everything is done.
The writing is by far the strongest element of the comic; the occasional slips into hackneyed dialogue aside, there is some extremely atmospheric writing on show here. The opening narration sets the scene wonderfully, and evokes a suitably eerie tone; it would have been easy to have gone over-the top with the horror, and to a certain extent the comic does, but there’s also a creepy, mysterious undercurrent to balance things out, and the contrast works surprisingly well. Busbee also does an excellent job of setting up the series while at the same time leaving exactly the kind of tantalising hints and questions that bring readers back for a second issue. While he’s certainly an experienced writer, Busbee doesn’t seem to have done much comics work, but you’d not know it from the strong and assured writing here.
The art is not as successful, although it is by no means a weak job. From a technical perspective, it’s the best artwork I’ve seen in the Arcana titles that have passed through the hallowed halls of the SBC reviews team, but it seems a little bland and unexciting. Sheriff Clay for example looks good, but he also looks just like Clint Eastwood. And Wolverine. If you had to pick a rough and confident fighter with a mysterious past, someone very much like Clay would be your first choice. All that said, it is only a minor flaw and Bodenheim makes up for it with some wonderful visuals and good storytelling.
Not only did this comic surprise me with how good it actually is, but it also proved that there’s still life in the horror-western sub-genre, and that’s an achievement in itself. It’ll be interesting to see where this series goes in the next two issues, and it’ll also be interesting to see what these promising creators do next.
The Plot (from www.arcanastudios.com): Arizona territory, 1880. Someone’s killing preachers, and New York City reporter Will Dalton heads west to cover the story. Will and his brother Clay, a small-town sheriff, begin digging for the truth behind the murders. But they soon find themselves on the front lines of a horrific war for the very soul of America! Sundown is a terrifying three-issue tale of the Old West where sometimes, dying just means you’re switching sides.
The Review: What’s worst…
Another great book on the market just when you are trying to cut down for a while?
That the same great book is a similar idea to one of yours? AND it’s damn fine!!!
Jay Busbee, the writer of Sundown, delivers to the max (is that what the kids say?) with this western tale of murder and intrigue. It is a spooky, unnerving read with exciting art and storytelling. Ryan Bodenheim’s artwork is right up there with the guys working at DC and Marvel; it reminds me of Frazer Irving and Charlie Allard, gritty and clear at the same time. Rounding off the team is colourist Stefani Rennee who brings atmosphere and mood to the pages. I am sure the story would have worked fine in black & white, but there is something special about the old west in comics when the colours are gorgeous as they are this book.
The plot is simple, but what works and makes the book interesting is the relationship set up between the two brothers and the hints we have to their past relationship with their father. For me the murders that are taking place are second fiddle to the brothers’ story that I hope is explored further in the next couple of issues. The book is a good blend of Horror and the Wild West, with great scenery and mystery to boot!
We got to read this in PDF format on a computer screen, which usually puts me off, BUT this time I found myself captivated by the story and art. I will definitely be looking out for this at my local comic shop - which I bet doesn’t stock it, so I will buy it from Arcana Studios website, which I suggest you do as well. If you like adventure and murder, with some zombie like creatures (that I am guessing might be vampires given the title Sundown – and if they are vampires I am happy because my idea featured Zombies) set in the backdrop of the Wild West, this is a book you need to pick up.
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