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Django Unchained #5 – Review

DJANGO UNCHAINED #5

By: Quentin Tarantino & Reginald Hudlin (story), Danijel Zezlj (art), Giulia Brusco (colors)

The Story: As a glorified butler, it’s probably not a good idea to give lip to a man with guns.

The Review: Last issue, I talked about the hierarchy of disenfranchisement that existed for the African-American population in Django’s world of the antebellum South.  Slaves weren’t the bottom, amazingly enough; that position belonged to the Mandingo fighters, whose value and longevity lasted only as long as their last fight.  At least slaves generally had longer productive lives.  By comparison, house servants lived in the lap of luxury, some more so than others.

I had thought Cleo, with her fine mastery of language skills and social graces, represented the very top of the house servant’s life, but the introduction of Stephen, the steward at Candie’s main estate, proves otherwise.  Not only does he have a position of power in the cushy environment of the indoors, he can take liberties in his behavior to his master that probably no other slave could.  In response to Candie’s warm greeting, he grumbles, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, hello my ass…”  Undaunted, Candie asks if Stephen missed him.  “Yeah, I miss you like I miss a rock in my shoe.”  Stephen even has the privilege of addressing Candie by his first name.

Essentially, Stephen has carved out for himself and for himself only a place where he lives the facsimile of a free man’s life.  But having the symptoms of freedom isn’t the same as actually being free.  Django exemplifies that crucial difference, which explains why Stephen’s reaction to him has such immediate venom.  When Stephen attempts to wield the usual tools of his power, his caustic manner and Candie’s first name, Django coolly reveals how impotent these weapons truly are.  In the most uncomfortable and powerful scene of the issue, Django asserts his superiority in the most direct way, using words (“Nigger, when I say stop, you plant roots.”), metaphor, and physical violence to get his point across.

Django may be right when assuring Schultz that Stephen will never reveal the incident to anyone, but Schultz also has a point when he questions the wisdom of this dramatic gesture.  Stephen didn’t get to where he was just by being “cute,” but by being smart, and his gaze is fixed on the estate’s visitors with even greater scrutiny.  He perceives something amiss between Django and Hilda, and his probing, pointed questions signal danger of the gravest kind, although they do end the issue on an awkward, drifting note.  “Why you lyin’ to me?” he asks her.

“I ain’t.”

“Why you cryin’?”

“Because you’re scarin’ me.”

“Why am I scarin’ you?”

“Because you scary…”

It’s no wonder the series’ original call for five issues has gone up to seven, especially if Hudlin insists on bringing in new characters to the story, some of whom don’t quite prove their worth.  Candie’s widowed sister serves practically no purpose at all, while overseer captain Ace Woody exists solely to dole out senseless acts of cruelty, shooting and killing several new Mandingo fighters just to show he can, apparently.

I like a more impressionistic style of art myself, and while Zezlj’s is quite effective in its own way, I can’t say I was particularly taken with it.  There’s so many shadowed smudges in his images that occasionally it takes a bit of extra concentration to make out what you’re seeing.  I’d also add that without R.M. Guéra’s ability for fine detail, we lose much of the world-building set design, props, and costuming that helps immerse you into the story.

Conclusion: Not quite as tightly paced and delivered as previous issues, but it continues the unique psychological and social tension of the series, making it impossible to romanticize this undeniably callous period of history.

Grade: B

- Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: - I must say, Hilda suffers from a lack of imagination when it comes to the lying game.  Why not just tell Stephen she’s happy because she got out of the “hot box” early and can now serve two men who treat her very well?  Why not admit an attraction to Django to deflect from her familiarity around him?  She has absolutely none of her husband’s ability to ad-lib, is all I’m saying.

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