February 19, 2014

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"Storytellers Ought To Remember This." -- The Sixth Gun #38


The Sixth Gun #38
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Brian Hurtt and Bill Crabtree
Oni Press

This feels like one of those issues where everything changes.  Not in the “everything you know is a lie” kind of way but in the “it’s time to shake up the status quo and reset the comic” way.  Trapped in the small town of Brimstone, Drake Sinclair, Becky Montcrief and their band of misfit would-be-world-saviors/destroyers/recreators are under attack by a posse of snake men who are eager to get their hands on Drake and Becky’s powerful guns.  Also after Drake is Asher Cobb, Drake’s reluctant, mummified ally who only assisted Drake so that he could have the love of his life back once Drake remade the world with the power of the guns. It seems like he’s done it many times in his past lives and that he’s destined to do it again in this life. That is if he can save his friends and allies and get out of the town of Brimstone alive.

Bunn and Hurtt work as competing co-creators on The Sixth Gun.  Bunn is a natural storyteller; you can imagine being out in the woods, sitting around a camp fire and completely mesmerized as he pulls out one macabre story after another out of the night sky.  Bunn’s storytelling in The Sixth Gun #38 is easy, clear but sublimely dark.  As longtime allies are killed or captured by the enemies forces, Bunn doesn’t pull any emotional punches but he doesn’t linger long on any of the moments.  Where he does linger, it’s to let the actions of Drake or someone else sink in with the reader.  Asher Cobb has been a horrifically tragic figure since Bunn and Hurtt introduced him in the second storyline.  To Drake, he’s been more of a blunt tool than anything else as he let Cobb believe what he wanted to about how Drake was going to use the guns.  

Actually all of Drake’s allies have been to one degree or another tools for him to use, including the possessor of one of the powerful six guns, Becky, although she has the potential to be more than that to him and also to be far more powerful with the guns than he could ever imagine being.  But Cobb is the only one following him that he truly hates so when Cobb turns on Drake, there’s no second thought or remorse in our “hero” as he deals with his betrayer.  Bunn uses this confrontation amid all the other battles of Drake’s allies to remind us just who Drake is and the drive he has to achieve his goals of destroying the gun.  And in one of those moments of lingering, he also reminds us of the price that Drake has already paid on his quest.  

Under a different artist, The Sixth Gun #38 would be a much darker story and morally harsher story.  Brian Hurtt and colorist Bill Crabtree have this really, different approach.  Their pop and lively styles camouflage Bunn’s darkness.   Hurtt can do the dark and brooding stuff; you can see that in his and Bunn’s initial collaboration The Damned.  His work on The Sixth Gun has been more lively.  He’s drawing a pop western that subtly hides the dark soul of this series.  This latest issue sees the apparent killing of one of Drake’s main allies, the capture of a reluctant ally and Drake dealing with Cobb, never an ally- just more of an accomplice.  Hurtt gives each of these moments a physical dimension.  The ultimate fate of Cobb isn’t so much Drake having to put down a rabid dog as it is a physical damnation of Cobb’s already damned soul.  “The Second Gun spreads the Fires of Perdition” we’re told over and over again and Hurtt and Crabtree take that idea and makes it something we can understand through line and color.  

The Sixth Gun #38 is not some rough and craggy western.  There’s no Clint Eastwood or Sergio Leone in sight of this as Bunn and Hurtt traffic as much in fantasy as they do in western, if not more.  While Bunn works in the darkness and Hurtt and Crabtree provide light and form to the story, the synthesis is a western that’s not really a western.  The western is the setting of The Sixth Gun but it’s not the true genre of the book.  Bunn and Hurtt are telling a fairly straightforward fantasy story, including a heroic journey by the stories main characters, but the western setting colors your perception of it much differently than if it were in some more typical fantasy world.  The Sixth Gun #38 continues the great but sly genre mashup that Bunn and Hurtt have been playing with since the beginning.