By: Christian Wildgoose (artist)

The Story: Deputy Marshal Reuben J. Cogburn is being accused of having once killed a man—or a little over a dozen—just to see him die.  How does he plead?  Um…

The Review: You got to hand it to the Western genre; even through all the decades it’s been around, spun into radio programs, television shows, movies, and novels (both the dime and literary variety), it hasn’t really changed all that much since it first appeared.  It’s hard not to see the appeal: a few questionably good men, armed with only their guts and guns, facing down the wildness of the frontier.  Play these elements well, and everything else just gilds the lily.

Christian Wildgoose’s prequel of the novel-turned-film True Grit doesn’t go out of its way to turn the genre on its heels, but it’s a good reminder of why the Western remains so popular in fiction.  The star character definitely lives up to the title.  Cogburn has all the features of the ideal sheriff archetype: straight talk, no nonsense, quick draw, tough love, and a rigid self-made code of honor.  He couldn’t be a bigger man’s man if you casted Clint Eastwood in the role.

As willing as you are to believe Cogburn does what he has to, his unsentimental delivery of his side of the story sheds some doubt on his total innocence.  Not that you really care, with his kind of machismo, but it’s worth wondering how necessary all those deaths he’s involved with are.  It also gets you interested in this man’s history, and why he came to tame this lawless country.  On the flip side, the defense attorney blusters so stridently to Cogburn’s testimony that you’re pretty sure he’s just full of it.

There’s an admirable attention to detail in the storytelling.  Instead of taking it for granted that the characters are living and working in the Old Wild West, some real-world history gets incorporated into the setting to make this world that much more convincing.  Even the courtroom scenes follow some accurate, if rudimentary, procedure, giving them some credibility.  The story also avoids the clichéd kind of country dialogue that tends to plague Westerns.  The characters sound distinctly Southern and period-appropriate, but they don’t fall into hillbilly or redneck speak.

Also worthy of note is how textured the characters are, despite the limitations of what they get to do.  Cogburn’s flashbacks obviously give him the most action, but even the lesser-featured characters get to display some personality and stakes in the story.  Mr. Gouty’s meticulous needling during his cross-examination paints him not only as cleverly mean-spirited, but also hints that he’s got a bone to pick with Cogburn.  Even Aaron Wharton’s few lines drops clues about the possibly unsavory background of the deputy marshal (“Damn you to hell, Cogburn, it’s the devil you need to talk to!”)

Wildgoose’s art is a great fit.  It clearly works better in dramatic scenes, when the panels are close and tight to the characters’ faces.  Then, the details in their expressions and features convey a lot of emotion and personality.  But during the shootout scenes, the sketchy lines sometimes make it difficult to tell exactly what is happening, so the course of action gets a bit confused.

Conclusion: For a comic intended mainly to draw interest into the Coen Brothers’ film, it does a good job making the lead character compelling and offering some lively action.  Supported by solid art, True Grit: Mean Business stands on its own fairly well.

Grade: B

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – What is it about having an eye patch that makes a person seem that much more badass?

– “How many people have you killed…?”  “Around twelve or fifteen…”  “Come now, how many?”  “I believe them two Whartons made twenty-three.”  Oh, Cogburn… Never change.