June 17, 2012

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Nix Western #1

Written by Ken Eppstein
Illustrated by Bob Ray Starker
Self-Published (Nix Comics)

Johnny Skeleton rides into town and decides to play a battle of wits with the local sheriff, with the denizens of the Hidey-Ho Saloon caught in the middle.  It's psychological warfare within the pages of the new Nix Western #1.

Ken Eppstein is a man who isn't afraid to experiment, as his quarterly anthology series showed.  This year brings two new experiments, a comic aimed at kids and this western story, which has a decidedly different feel to it.  Rather than go for a traditional story of good versus evil (which is how the plot appears to be headed in the first few pages), Eppstein goes for a more cerebral approach, as Johnny Skeleton decides he can use the sheriff's weakness against him.

Normally in this type of story, the hero would overcome his flaws and carry the villain off to justice.  And in a way, the sheriff does just that.  However, Eppstein, who clearly has watched an episode or two of the Twilight Zone, refuses to make it that simple.  The end result shows what happens when ideas are taken to an extreme and how innocents can easily be caught in the middle of a struggle.  I had to think hard about what Eppstein was thinking when he put the comic together, as this story does not offer easy resolutions.  When you read this, you will need time to reflect on the story, making it linger in your mind longer than you'd expect it to.  As far as I'm concerned, that's a good thing.

Eppstein's dialog this time out isn't quite as good as what I've seen before from him, possibly because he's trying to split the difference between a modern tone and capturing the tone of the old west.  His lines for Johnny Skeleton are the best of the bunch, as he seems the most modern of the characters.  I think it would be best for Eppstein in Nix Western #2 (and I hope there is one) if he just left the speech modern.  After reading entirely too many comics, I've come to the conclusion that period pieces work best if the writer doesn't try to make it sound old-fashioned.  It's just too hard to pull off unless you are a historian.

Bob Ray Starker uses a sketchy, line-heavy style that reminded me a bit of Rafer Roberts, though not quite as refined as the Plastic Farm creator.  The technique works for both the story and the setting, as the west certain was a little rough around the edges and never as clear-cut as we like to think it was.  His characters are a little too static, but that's offset by the wide variety of camera angles that Starker uses, keeping the action moving by alternating between facial close-ups and body shots.  He does a nice job of creating strong facial expressions without going into extreme detailing.

Nix Western #1 is not your typical western comic, and that's a good thing.  If you like psychological stories in the vein of Serling or are already a fan of Eppstein, give this comic a try.  Nix Western #1 shows that Eppstein still has more in his bag of tricks and I look forward to seeing what he produces next.

You can order a copy of Nix Western #1 here.