March 3, 2014

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Tall Tales from the Badlands 3

Written by Mark Wheaton, Sean Fahey, Robert Napton, and Matt Dembicki
Illustrated by Jerry Decaire, John Fortune, Franco Cespedes, Ezequiel Rosingana, and Ruben Rojas
Published by Black Jack Press

A series of Weird West tales of varying quality make up this third issue of the anthology series, ranging from a hanging judge who gets his just deserts to an interesting time travel paradox as a variety of writers and artists give their take on the genre.

Leading off is “The Judgment of the People” by Wheaton and Decaire. Playing off the idea of the unfairness of the Western judicial system, Wheaton takes us down a few tales of a Judge’s general incompetence. When he asks for a monument worthy of his greatness, there’s a twist waiting for a person who sat in judgment of the innocent. I liked the story well enough, but while Decaire’s art was extremely detailed, giving us the little notches on a printing press or every terrified tooth in a character’s head, his ability to portray the flow of the story was lacking. I had to keep reading back and forth to figure out the ending, which wrecks the power of the vengeance theme.

“Apologies” by Sean Fahey and John Fortune is a gotcha story about a party lost in the West and completely out of options. When the father prepares for a violent end, a rescue party comes to the rescue, except, well, you can guess what they’re thinking about the people they just found, given they are out of food and supplies themselves. A tale fit for an old EC book, with about the same measure of implied violence, this one was fun. Fortune’s art is hamstrung a bit by not showing any of the actual violence, but his characters emote well.

Faley has another short in this one, “Where the Heart is,” this time featuring Ruben Rojas on art duties. Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the art on this one at all, as it felt flat and lifeless. The characters look bland and generic, as though they could be plugged into just about any story, anywhere. There are almost no details in the backgrounds, either, which is a killer on a story set in the West. The premise of going back in time to “rough it” had potential, but it left me cold because the art couldn’t carry the plot.

“Rustlers” by Robert Napton and Franco Cespedes features a train robbery gone wrong when the bandits realize they’ve attacked a cargo with a zombie payload. It’s really hard to get me to like a zombie story, but I thought the premise on this one was pretty cool, as a wealthy cattle rancher tries to use this new weapon to increase his profits. Cespedes’ art helps a ton, making good use of heavy blacks to draw out the characters or obscure them in shadow. His character designs are top notch and well-details and it was easy to feel caught in the time period. The story goes as you’d expect, but it’s a lot of fun and was probably the highlight of the collection for me.

I agreed to review this one because it featured Matt Dembicki, who is one of my favorite mini-comics creators and I wanted to see him take on a Western theme. Working with artist Ezequiel Rosingana on “All Mine,” it features all the things I’d expect from a Dembecki historical piece. We have a Native American character treated with respect, an analogue to nature, and deep historical accuracy. Despite its short size, Matt packs a lot into the plot, seeding the climax in off-hand lines if you’re reading carefully. There’s only a small speculative piece, but this is a strong one-and done, even if Rosingana’s art is basic and standard, and heavily layered in effects, using greytones rather than working in black and white, which dulls the shading a bit, for me.

Tall Tales from the Badlands 3 is, like any indie anthology, going to work for some and not for others. Based on similar books I’ve read, I thought it was better than average, but it was helped a lot by having a familiar writer and a theme (the West) that I’m partial to in the first place. If you grew up on John Wayne and company and want to see Westerns with a horror blend, give this one a shot and see what you think. I’d definitely read another issue of the series, even without knowing any of the creators.