Tall Tales from the Badlands #1

A comic review article by: Jamil Scalese

You can pick up Tall Tales from the Badlands #1 in both print and digital form. Check out Black Jack Press for more info.

For a genre constantly branded as being on its deathbed, Westerns continue to slice out a respectable portion of movies, television and print media. Comics have an extremely rich history with the genre, and every so often something new from the world left of the Mississippi River manages release in the form of something we can grab at our LCS.

Often times those forays into the West are high-concept, typically mixed with other tropes like aliens, zombies or the Wizard of Oz. I expected Tall Tales from the Badlands to enter that Weird Western zone based on the title, but beginning with the opening story it's apparent that the read is refreshingly straightforward. Sean Fahey and Seamus Kevin Fahey alternate five stories set during a range of locations and dates. The latter of the Fahey brothers might be recognizable as a writer for Battlestar Galactica and other TV shows -- it wasn't to me, but the foreword filled me in. The whole thing is in black and white, which is never a detriment, nor a plus. What is a plus is the host of tremendous, young artist that have their work on display.

"Thicker Than Water"
by Sean Fahey and Lisandro Estherren

The first story by Sean Fahey started the anthology out very strong, a contender for the best story of the book. As indicated by the title, the story centers on the strong bonds of family and the broken silent oaths of two partners in crime. Outlaw Miller ousts Hank to the Pinkerton Detective Agency due to the agency's threat against his brother. The ensuing story takes a minute to get into, but offers a great pay off -- something all the other stories lacked.

The wobbly consistency of Lisandro Estherren holds the story back. Estherren has talent, and there are only minor storytelling issues, but his style alters and sometimes switches in between panels, and it's jarring. Overall there are some very nice pages, and the story uses the two-toned boundaries in the most Frank Miller-esque way of all comics, for what that's worth.

by Seamus Kevin Fahey and Jose Holder

I had to read this story a few times to understand what was going on. Seamus Fahey's script and Jose Holder's art did not mesh well, even though both sparked with potential. The art by Holder is professional looking, but would benefit tremendously from an inker (and a colorist too). The tallest of the Tall Tales opens with the husband of an ordinary prairie wife being recruited by a mob to hunt down some very bad men. As the wife goes about her motherly business, the bad men show up at the ranch to do shady things and the family violently revolts in defense of their stead.

The ending -- her casually greeting her husband in the aftermath of her beheading a human being -- is abrupt and is a morbid tonal shift. At first the concept did not interest me, but it has potential in an expanded arrangement. Obviously, we're talking a specific format, but I did not feel attached to Abigail at all. The title character had no room at all. The piece suffered from compacted pacing and excellent but brash pencils not tight enough to tell it.

"The Runt"
by Sean Fahey and J.C Grande

I kind of don't know what to make of a story like "The Runt." It's short, it's cute and it's hard to get excited about. The hero is a dog that attempts to save his dying owner from the perils of the wildlife in the wicked west. J.C. Grande's art is very good, but features a cast of animals, and there's nothing eye-catching to this piece. Sean Fahey's script is decent for six pages, and again the ending to this one is sad and a little surprising, but it's not much to bark at.

"A Thousand Deaths"
by Seamus Kevin Fahey and Juan Romera

Sometimes ripping the carpet from under your story is so unsettling it tampers with the overall story. Such is the case with this story about an old fashioned gunslinger. The nameless narrating protagonist details the fated happenings of his numerous gunfights and the language of his soliloquy starts to border fantastical. An ominous mood dominates the short, and it propelled the reader to the end. However, the twist made the story go flat.

I really dig Romera's style, and his was the most put together and clear from a storytelling perspective. The use of grading to make grays and have this comic stand out deserves a nod or two. The simplicity of the art melds with the genre and the character. Romera's effort saves the story.

"Easy Livin'"
by Sean Fahey and Borja "Borch" Pena

The last story in the collection features a rugged mountain man named Caleb McCleary in 1836. The story received a high rating because the subject hit my soft spot for the fur-trappers and hill dwellers I read about in A.B. Guthrie novels. The plot is laughably simplistic though, and nears a child's story.

Caleb buys new supplies at the store; Caleb uses supplies at home. The character and setting started out with promise, but sputtered out in a strange and disappointing way. Inexplicably, there is a character named Hank not related to the one in "Thicker Than Water. " Additionally -- and not really a complaint -- for some reason the last tale in the book doesn't feature a theatrical ending.

I loved the hot fire "Borch" Pena dealt on this nine-page visual wonder. He is a legit talent, and does everything well apparently. The synergy between subject matter and the artist's style elevated the comic above the script for me. The nature and landscapes feel organic and Caleb seems like he grew right out of the brush. I have to be the lamest dude on the planet to want to read about that character's daily life.

Tall Tales from the Badlands is a genuine and successful stab at telling some new and interesting stories in the traditional Western genre. The Fahey brothers did an excellent job of recruiting some high-end talent to draw their stories. In an afterword by Sean Fahey he explains that they chose this subject and format because both brothers were so independent that this is what worked best. While I appreciate that, I would have a little more interested in this if the stories connect or followed a similar theme. True, there are some vague motifs on family and protecting those you love, but it's not overt or notable.

It's one of those books that sits right in the middle of the barometer. There is some splendiferous art, but not all the stories resonate.

Jamil Scalese is just like you -- an avid comics fan and lover of sequential art. Residing in Pittsburgh, PA, he is an unapologetic Deadpool fan, lover of the Food Network and proud member of Steelers Nation.

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