By: Quentin Tarantino & Reginald Hudlin (story), R.M. Guéra & Jason Latour (art), Giulia Brusco (colors)
The Story: It only takes one phony tooth to take out a crowd of surly men.
The Review: It’s something of a luxury to review an adaptation when you’ve never seen the original. Despite our best open-minded intentions, we tend to get pretty attached to the first version of any story, and anything that comes after seems pale or too different by comparison. Maybe if I had already seen the movie version of Django Unchained, I might be a little more cautious about the comic, as I might with the cheapie “novel” adaptation of Avatar.
As it stands alone, though, Django Unchained the comic works very well. The last issue established the premise and introduced the characters with surprising efficiency, and this issue rolls along at nearly the perfect pace, fleshing out the general direction of the story while giving us an outline of what’s to come. I don’t know Hudlin at all, having never read his run on Black Panther, but he melds his familiarity with the original Django with his comic book writing skills very well to deliver the ideal adaptation.
Both Dr. Schultz and Django are so fully-formed and compelling as leads that you’d be interested in their doings no matter what they did. Hudlin goes a step further by balancing their time spent shooting down ignorant Southerners and that spent fleshing out their relationship. There’s something powerful about the idea that Schultz would take Django on his deputy and protégé, but also consider himself something of a sidekick to Django’s own mission (“As a German, I’m obliged to help you on your quest to rescue your beloved Broomhilda.”).
Hudlin also does wonders with dialogue. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray only wish they can deliver period and dialect work this good on All-Star Western. Whereas the slant of Jonah Hex’s accent and his rugged turns of phrases often sound labored, Hudlin almost effortlessly delivers that Civil War Southern feel (though he does have the benefit of getting to use some fairly gnarly epithets with freedom):
“Ain’t nobody gonna touch you and your jimmie while you on my property. But for lettin’ a nigger kill a white man—and especially for letting a nigger kill a white man in front of an audience of niggers—y’all ain’t gonna make it out of the county alive.”
Where Hudlin really surpasses himself is in the way he uses dialogue to round out the characters, never allowing them to get pigeonholed into types. Yes, the crowd of men Big Daddy rounds up to ambush Django and Schultz are redneck men wearing the precursors of Ku Klux Klan masks, but their conditioned bigotry is underlined by a very relatable humanity as well. Consider their exchange about the quality of their masks:
“Who made this goddman shit?”
“Well, make your own goddamn masks!”
“Look, nobody’s saying they don’t appreciate what Jenny did.”
“Well, if all I hadda was cut a hole in a bag, I could cut it better than this.”*
Guéra delivers very suitable art, somehow managing to be rough and rugged, but also put-together at the same time—not unlike our two protagonists, in fact. He also knows where to get a little looser with his art to heighten the drama of the scene, like the demonically elongated face of Django in his “I like the way you die, boy” moment. But I think the real artistic star of this issue may be Brusco, whose lighting has no equal, giving Guéra’s art Oscar-worthy finishes.
Conclusion: The issue thrives on a combination of high-precision action, every beat speaking for itself with full impact, as well as some light-footed and barreling dialogue.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * It’s a touch of brilliance that you can kind of like Willard for sticking up for his wife, to the point where he decides to go home after the rest of the men keep criticizing her hard work: “I watched my wife work all day gettin’ thirty bags ready for you ungrateful sonsabitches!” So you can respect a racist.