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Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness #1 – Review – Draft

By: Eric Powell with Tracy Marsh (writers), Kyle Hotz (Artist), Dan Brown (Colorist), Nate Piekos (Letterer)

The Review: I think it’s a reasonable gripe comic book fans are entitled to that sometimes we get a little frustrated having to wait 30 days between chapters of our favourite books. When we do it’s for the best of reasons; the quality of titles like Saga or The Manhattan Projects is such that we want that next hit of the good stuff as soon as possible. Of course, that craving is all the more powerful when it comes to runs built off the back of mini-series. I eagerly await the next instalments of Seaguy and Luthor Strode for example, and the same’s been true of Eric Powell’s Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities.

If you’re a stranger to the book, here’s the gist. Fineas Sproule is the proprietor of a travelling troupe of Biological Curiosities (a ‘freak show’ to use the modern vernacular) who has employed the help of Wild West legend Billy The Kid in helping him intervene in the plight faced by various fellow “de-forms” around the globe; their kind are often experimented on for nefarious reasons or end up falsely-blamed for all manner of diabolical deeds. So, kinda like the X-Men if it had been published by EC Comics.  It’s a horror/comedy book that channels Eric Powell’s macabre perversions at the same time as allowing him to play fast and loose with the greatest freaks in history from both fact (the Elephant Man, Jack The Ripper) and fiction (Dr Frankenstein, Jekyll and Hyde). It. Is. Awesome.

This latest entry concerns the legend of the Loch Ness Monster – the ‘Orm’ of the title is apparently Old Norse for “snake” or “dragon” – and Sproule’s quest to save Aldwin Callahan, the Alligator Man, who was kidnapped at the end the last series. It doesn’t take long for Sproule’s group to find themselves in deep trouble after arriving at their destination, only to be surrounded by a mob of hostile locals who are quick to dub them “Abominations from the Loch!” Then things just go from bad to worse. Elsewhere we’re shown Callahan’s plight as his captor brings him before “the Master” who turns out to be…well, let’s just say that that unlike the previous series this one has a much heavier emphasis on the occult and features one of the classic horror icons as its big bad – I’ll refrain from spoiling the final page reveal.

What doesn’t change is Powell’s ability to diffuse the moments of intense horror with a well-timed lighter touch, like Billy The Kid’s crass demeanour or Jeffrey “The Miniature Boy” Tinsle’s cutesy pluckiness. The whole enterprise has a mercurial, shifting tone that means you’re never sure if a laugh or a shriek is around the corner, a feeling bolstered by the events of previous chapters which leave you in no doubt that any of the cast (well, save Billy) could meet a grisly end at any time. It’s a fine line to tread but it’s done with ease, gifting the book a rare quality exemplified in Powell’s other great work, The Goon.

Kyle Hotz is the perfect fit for this material and revels in his depiction of creepy locales, misfits and monsters. As a joint architect on this project from the beginning he’s got a great handle on the recurring cast but still excels in making the bit players just as interesting, and the overall effect is a book that looks like long lost production art from the Universal Classic Monsters movies. There’s never a comfortable moment, and in this genre that’s high praise indeed.

Conclusion: Making a welcome return, Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities and the Orm of Loch Ness brings a sense of adventure and humour to a backdrop of horror. For readers looking for creepy thrills, Dark Horse Comics has often been called home and this book would sit neatly alongside any Mignolaverse titles one might find on their pull list. If any criticism can be made, it’s that in contrast to the prior instalments this entry is slightly less stand-alone and definitely benefits from having read the last two volumes. Still that’s another gripe that comic fans are usually happy to live with: digging into trade paperbacks to be brought up to speed – especially when the pay-off is as sweet as this.

Grade: B+

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One Response

  1. Reblogged this on Matt Sargeson's Blog.

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