Death Was Silent By: Ron Marz (writer and editor), Bart Sears (artist), Michael Atiyeh (colors)

Backup Dime Novel “Prey” By: C. Edward Sellner (writer and colorist), Alejandro Aragon (artist)

The Story: Lead (Death Was Silent): A bounty hunter with an odd way of talking drifts into town on a rainy night and he isn’t here for the company.

Backup (Prey): Billy the Kid’s latest installment in the weird western world of the Deadlands.

What’s Good: Ron Marz delivers a high concept weird western. Why high concept? Four words: weird western black ops. Marz makes good use of the conventions of the weird western genre, which are themselves built of the classic tropes of the western and dark fantasy genres. The western excels at the outsider bringing law to a town on the frontier, where he is friendless, outgunned, disrespected and despised. The tone was set perfectly in the opening sequence as our hero rides into town under sheets of rain, when a kid comes up to him and says, “Hey mister, you kill that guy?” This nods to the western genre and misdirects at the same time. Beautiful. And the dialogue throughout is terse and tight with tension.

Bart Sears and Michael Atiyeh on art were excellent. I’d last seen Sears’ work on Justice League International and some Crossgen titles. Here, it is totally different, more subdued and gritty, less self-aware. It reminds me a bit of the European styles used in their western comics. It does not try to be beautiful, because its subjects certainly are not. This fits the gross, dirty and corrupt town of this story. Sears’ action sequences are cool and I was sold on the art right in the opening sequence and the ride into town under the rain.

What’s Not So Good: While the western elements of the story were strong, I didn’t feel the fantasy elements were on the same level. The magical conceits of the story seemed weak. The first (a chalk board with a spell on it for him to talk with) is a bit of a red herring. It has nothing to do with the plot or how our hero resolves his problem. It’s only there to look cool, which makes it gratuitous. The second (a town possessed) isn’t original, nor does it draw on resonances of where this has been done before to lend power to the story or to change our hero. It is an entirely external opposition to this emotionless weird west avenger. This isn’t huge, but it kept this book from reaching its potential. Secondly, I’d picked up the first one-shot, with its backup Billy the Kid vignette, but didn’t read the second and now in the third, I had a hard time figuring out what was going on with Billy. I’m not sure that short backup stories were the right narrative form for Billy the Kid, but maybe it’s just that I missed chapter 2.

Conclusion: I liked this book and would describe it in this way: Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets High Plains Drifter meets Aliens. Worth checking out if you’d like to taste weird westerns.

Grade: B

-DS Arsenault

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