By: Quentin Tarantino (story), R.M. Guéra & Jason Latour (art), Giulia Brusco (colors)
The Story: It figures a dentist’s unflinching tolerance for pain makes him an ideal bounty hunter.
The Review: I don’t have too many unreasonable prejudices—I don’t think—and the ones I do have I usually try to suppress whenever possible, but I’ve got to say: I am not a fan of adaptations of any kind, from any one medium to another medium. Almost always the original intent of the original author gets lost (see the Lord of the Rings films, or 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel), even when the original author is involved.
Still, I decided to give Django Unchained a shot. True, I’d never seen the movie (but then, none of us has at this point, presumably) and I really had no idea what the story was even about, but what the heck—live dangerously, I say, especially when the only thing it’ll cost you is three bucks. I figured an adaptation which basically lifts the original script and provides some nice visuals ought to have a pretty good chance of being as faithful as possible.
From the get-go, you have to find Dr. King Schultz one of the more compelling figures in recent comics. This dapper, older gentleman with fancy manners and a no-nonsense edge proves an irresistible combination, basically stealing the scene wherever he shows up. In response to a redneck slave trader pulling out a gun on him, Schultz exclaims lightly, “My good man, did you simply get carried away with your dramatic gesture, or are you pointing that weapon at me with lethal intention…?” This is a few pages into the issue and you’ve seen nothing to support this belief, but immediately, you know it’s about turn ugly for some racist Southerners. That’s how strong an impression Schultz leaves on you.
Schultz’s dramatics have the unfortunate effect of overshadowing the titular star of this series. We don’t really get much out of Django other than his grim history, and he spends most of the issue simply following Schultz’s lead with the perhaps instinctual obedience of a former slave. We know he has his own bones to pick with Schultz’s current targets, and we also see him increasingly asserting his own judgment calls, even against the mild advice of the man who freed him. We know from Schultz’s actions in the town of Daughtrey that he operates according to a meticulous plan; what kind of conflict should result if Django messes with that plan?
Tarantino makes good use of the period. I’m no historian, but the pre-Civil War South that he gives us is unromantic, but complicated. Yes, the slave-owners are typically villainous, but it’s pretty easy to vilify such flippant subjugation of other human beings. What’s important is Tarantino doesn’t exploit his subject-matter gratuitously. I’m not bothered at all by the use of n-word or other racial epithets because that is natural to the story’s context. Overall, the scripting and dialogue has a kind of credibility and sophistication that puts all of All-Star Western’s attempts at dialect to shame.
Several times throughout the issue, I had to flip back to the credits page just to make sure it was Guéra, not Cully Hamner, who drew the issue. Guéra definitely has a blocky approach to figures that evokes Hamner’s work, but more than that, he generates the same raw, exciting flair that Hamner often does in his art. This issue offers few action sequences, and brief ones at that, but they have a fleet intensity to them that resonates far longer than their own length. Brusco has always been one of the finest colorists at Vertigo, and she does Guéra and Latour right. Firelight in the night has never seemed so eerie and threatening, with characters often looking as if they manifest out of the darkness.
Conclusion: An adaptation that makes me want to see the original—a pretty big achievement for any spin-off work.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: - I do love that this is an era so naïve and uninformed that a warranted outlaw could pass himself off as a town sheriff for two years.