November 7, 2013

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Monkeybrain on the Brian: Real West

When Monkeybrain debuted in July 2012, I took a little time to feature a review on each of the debut titles, which I called "Monkeybrain on the Brain." Now it's home to Eisner winners and creators ranging from Kurt Busiek to Jen and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the line.

Over the course of November, I'll be featuring different Monkeybrain titles, both new and old. You can find them under the Monkeybrain tag, which includes links back to the ones I did initially.

Anthology Curated by Chris Schweizer
Issue One by John Arcudi and A.C. Zamudio
Issue Two by Kevin Burkhalter

Monkeybrain Comics go back in time to tell a varied set of stories in America's West, with series curator Chris Schweizer taking full advantage of of the flexibility of digital comics in his selections.

One of the things that digital-first comics have over their print counterparts is the ability to ignore page restrictions. Other than time (and possibly pay rate), there's no extra cost in providing the reader with a comic that's a page or two longer than usual, whereas in print that can often move the cost scale from $3.99 to $4.99 or even higher.

I bring this up here because Real West provides a perfect example of this theory in practice. While the first issue was eight pages, Burkhalter's story was 27--and remained at 99 cents. In a print anthology, there would have been a need to either take a story out, move it across two parts, or increase the page count--and the price. I'm really glad to see Schweizer and Monkeybrain showing their ability to seize on the flexibility digital-first provides.

So, innovation aside, how is this series? The answer is very good, especially for fans of Western comics who have been disappointed by the direction DC took poor Jonah Hex.

In the first story, by comics veteran John Arcudi, we find a young woman learning where her father died. His story is tragic, noble, and worthy of a John Wayne movie. It's so good, it's impossible to believe--and that's the point. We know that the narrator is playing with the woman's emotions, but why? That's the key to the story, and the answer might not be what you expect.

A.C. Zamudio is apparently an award-winner from Deviant Art, and it's easy to see why. She's great here, doing exactly what the story needs to work. The narrative is told in bold, dynamic panels, with action that shows a hero dying a hero's death. When we see reality, it's no less well-drawn, but the hero is no longer larger-than-life, his frailties shown as being all too real. All of her panels are extremely detailed and realistic, with little touches that sell the reader on the fact that we're in the West, not just scenes thrown together for backdrop. I can't wait to see more of her comics work--there's no way this can be the end of it. Someone (Valiant?) is gonna snap her up and give her an even bigger stage.

After the serious nature of issue one, it's really amazing to see the gears switch for issue two. Rather than keep doing the same style for the anthology--and there would have been nothing wrong with that, mind you--we instead run smack into Kevin Burkhalter, who lets us know from page one that we're in irreverent territory.

Breaking free from jail, a wanton killer knows just who he must find--the man who drew his wanted poster. But getting to him won't be as easy as he hoped, because the cartoonist has a very determined fiance who isn't ready to hold her wedding on Boot Hill! Filled with great visual gags, starting with a pail of waste and continuing to showing that the ink pen might be mightier than the gun, Burkhalter's story keeps the pace going and the tone light. It reminds me a bit of how Roger Langridge might write a Western, though the style of his work is far more like Ben Towle. (That's not a huge surprise, given he's a Savannah alumni.)

Though the art really carries this story, Burkhalter is pretty good at keeping the dialogue fresh and funny, too. It's more a dry wit, with a few outright jokes peppered in, and fits perfectly with the style of his art and overall plot.

I hate to keep throwing "I love this series" around during this feature on Monkeybrain, but...well, this is yet another series that was a big hit for me. If you like stories set in the old West, this is a must-grab, but even if you just want quality one-and-done comics, give this one a shot. Issue two just hit Comixology yesterday, and of course, issue one is ready for you there as well.