Monday, June 25, 2012

Deadlands Comics


Visionary Comics recently published a series of comics based on Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Deadlands RPG. Each comic highlights a facet of the Deadland’s setting with varying degrees of success. I will say for the Deadlands RPGer, they are all worth reading since they help illustrate the setting to the non-Deadlands initiate. Their other value is giving the veteran Deadlands dweller a new view of the beloved RPG setting. 

For the non-gamer, Deadlands is a genre mash-up of the Wild West, Horror, and Steampunk called the Weird West. It features card shark spell casters, mad scientist inventing infernal devices, quick draw gun men, preachers that can call down actual fire and brimstone, and shamans on first name basis with nature spirits. There's lots of Kung-fu action as well.



My Life With Comics

During my childhood in the late 60s and early 70s, Dad allowed me to purchase comic books when we went to the local convenience store. I don't remember the store's name at Wesley St. and Terrell Rd. but I always looked forward to going there. My first two comic books were Aquaman and The Flash.

Time passed. My mother complained about my small collection and so she cruelly disposed of my comics when I was off to summer camp. I understand this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Apparently she got to Dad because we stopped going to stores that sold the offensive items. I was comic-less until I joined a gaming group in my late teens. One member was an avid comic book collector. He rekindled my interested during our monthly trips to the game stores in Dallas which sold comics as well.

I began collecting again but this time I not only collected to read but to hoard. It was a true golden time for comics seeing the advent of the graphic novel, better printing technology, and writers pushing the bounds of traditional story lines. I also purchased a number of old comics featuring 'first appearances' of different heroes from the Silver Age of comics. I loved those old stories.

I bought the good stuff, aged in plastic baggies to protect artistic and literary genius from the ravages of time. I had a special steamer trunk with custom-crafted separators to hold my treasure. When I moved I could easily port them them but it required two people to lift. In the top I kept miniatures and paint materials in boxes. It was mostly Warhammer 40K with my infamous, blue Baptian Space Marines.

In 1985 DC began a series of universe reorgs called Crisis on Infinite Earths, changing the worlds I loved into something they viewed as better. My comic collecting ended as it began when The Flash - Barry Allen - died to be replaced with the former Kid Flash, Wally West. Thank you Marv Wolfman.
I saw no need to continue but still had my trunk full of comics. I would go back and reread my treasure hoard and watched the books' value rise over time.

Then something horrible happened. With a 12 gauge shotgun blast and a spray of blue paint my collection was destroyed. I'm from rural Texas and guns are just a fact of life. My father was showing off a my new purchase, a Mossberg 590 Persuader 12 gauge shotgun with a six shot capacity. It was and is a beauty of a gun I loaded with alternate birdshot, buckshot, and slugs. 

My father was raised with shotguns that only carried three shots. More than that made the gun illegal to use for hunting, and thus useless. Dad did as you were supposed to do when clearing a weapon, he jacked all the shells out then pointed the gun away from everyone and pulled the trigger to make sure it was empty. It wasn't. Birdshot ripped through the trunk and into my collection perforating it horribly. But that wasn't the worst part. It also caused the Baptian blue paint can to explode covering everything in a fine, blue mist.


I never told dad how much the collection was worth. I shudder to think what it's value would be today.

My meager flow of comics stopped entirely that day. I didn't look back until last December when my wife gave me a Kindle Fire for my birthday. It came with a program called Comixology used for digital comics. I started buying again. My first purchases were Aquaman and Flash during DC's New 52. In a turnabout from my first experience with comics, Aquaman was great and Flash wasn't.

What about gaming?

As long time readers will know, I'm a Savage Worlds fan and have written several reviews of Deadlands products. The comics seemed to dovetail nicely with that effort. What follows is a series of short reviews of each book but these come with a caveat. I've been out of the comic reading business for a long time and I write as a hobby. I published a Novella and study story-craft in my spare time. 

I realize comics aren't novels and shouldn't be judged the way other literary works are judged but they are still stories. I believe a writer does his job when the words disappear and the reader enters the story. I think the same is  true of comics. Back in my childhood, I was the Flash. I was in the story. In some cases, the Deadlands comics achieved this. In other cases they irritatingly failed.

So if I seem a bit harsh, it's only because I love the setting and want to read stories that put me in it. That said, let the reviews begin.

Black Water
Writer - Jeff Mariotte
Artist - Brook Turner
Colorist - C. Edward Sellner
Letterer - Troy Peteri
Editor - Ron Marz

Synopsis - A wealthy gentleman named Mr. Harmon Rappaport is haunted by dreams of a woman who saved his life during the Civil War. He and his bodyguard, Ian  Fairfax, travel from New York to the the Great California Maze in search of Rapport's savior.

Along the way they hire Lyle Crumbfine to guide them through the dangers of the Maze. Harmon stares at the sky a great deal seeing the image his obsession so Lyle and Ian carry most of the story. Other characters in the story exists for the sole purpose of showing the dangers of the Great Maze. While they're all colorful in their own way, I would suggest red shirts for each since that's the role they play.

The ending is a bit abrupt. It could have done with a few more panels of fight scenes between the antagonist and our heroes. The story could also have done with fewer panels devoted to the horrors of the Maze then used the space depicting the final fight scene.

Deadlands fans will enjoy the depiction of the Great Maze. If your posse heads in that direction, this would be a good comic to pass around. The work includes full stats for Maze guide Lyle Crumbfine to add to your game as an NPC. I enjoyed the story, characters, and art but wished the story was stretched into a multi-comic series since it covers a lot of ground very quickly.

Death Was Silent
Writer/Editor - Ron Marz
Artist - Bart Sears
Colorist - Michael Atiyeh
Letterer - Troy Peteri

This was my favorite story of the series. This and ‘The Kid’ kept me guessing most of the way through. Since the primary character is mute, this story did much more with the look and feel of the Deadlands setting. I think one of the reasons I liked this story so much is because it utilized the art better than the other stories. While the other stories have great art, you noticed it more in this book.

The hero is a Texas Ranger named Hoyt Cooper who rides around claiming to be a bounty hunter. Credence is added to this claim due to the dead body draped over his horse. Savages cut Hoyt's tongue out so now he communicates with a magic black board hung around his neck. What he thinks, you see on the blackboard.

The intro of Hoyt riding into the town of Dandelion Flats in the rain is wonderful and sets the mood for the rest of the story.  Evil infests the town and Hoyt is there to clean it out - one town, one Ranger. But Ranger Cooper has a little help.

One of the reasons I love this story is that it concentrates on the story and not the setting. I love Deadlands but I love well told stories more. It would make a fine Twilight Zone episode being short, to the point, and horrific all at the same time.

If you only read one book in this series, make it Death Was Silent.


Massacre at Red Wing
Writers - Jimmy Palmiotti & Justin Gray
Artist - Lee Moder
Colorist - Michael Atiyeh
Letterer - Troy Peteri
Editor - Ron Marz

 This is my least favorite story of the series. It's filled with incongruities and oddness and the art is unsteady. To be sure, there are some wonderful images but the other great art is muted by the dog with buggy x-ray eyes and the heroine who’s face changes shape from panel to panel.

The opening scene shows the nameless heroine paddling down a river on an ice raft. Problem is, there’s not an ounce of snow in sight and no one’s dressed like it’s winter. The heroine disrobes before entering combat for reasons never fully explained.

Turns out her mother was raped by Raven, a major Deadlands bad guy. Raven didn’t want a daughter so the mother, Mahala Two Suns, gave her daughter away rather than have Raven kill her. If you’re picturing the plot of a Lifetime movie emerging you’re not far off.

So the mostly naked warrior princess goes around the Weird West kicking butt and taking names, although she never gives her’s. The one time she’s defeated she’s fully clothed. So always remember to enter combat naked. Luckily she shaves.



The story ends in a heartwarming reunion between birth mother and birth daughter as they ride off into the sunset. Just kidding, the mother gets shot during the rescue making most of the story pointless. I can’t wait for the sequel where the heroine has to kill her abusive ex-husband to get her kids back.

My other problem was with the foundation of the story itself. Raven hates white people. He blames them for wiping out his tribe and he's responsible for most of the horrors of the Weird West. Given his state of being, I'm not sure he would father children but even if he could, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't father a child with a half-breed. It would be analogous to Hitler having a love child with someone half Jewish only to be upset that it wasn't a boy.

This comic features lots of action scenes with a half naked warrior women killing misogynistic villains.  Given the comics I've seen for sale at the game store, I'd say there's a big audience for that. It's probably the biggest seller in the series despite the story problems.

The lone game artifact is Raven's back story.

The Devil’s Six Gun
Writers - David Gallaher
Artist - Steve Ellis
Letterer - Troy Peteri
Editor - Ron Marz

The Devil’s Six Gun tells the story of inventor Copernicus Blackburne. He's hired by reclusive inventor Samuel Tygean who wants a gun that will 'kill the devil, himself'. Tygean introduces the young inventor to Ghost Rock and soon the supernatural element has Blackburne's mind racing with ideas for new devices.  Contained within its pages is probably the best display of the slow madness caused by Ghost Rock along with the horrible end suffered by most Mad Scientist. 

Along the way Blackburne travels to Salt Lake City where we infer that Tygean wants a weapon to kill Darius Hellstromme, another major character in the Deadlands universe. To do that, he wants Blackburne to recreate his Protean Pistol using Ghost Rock derivatives. The problem is getting Blackburne to focus on weapons. Tygean discovers a method of getting Blackburne to focus but it involves robbing the scientiest of everything he loves. 

The book suffers from too many words containing back story and setting information. There's a great deal of history without much in the way of dialog. I think the real issue is that the design team decided to tell the story rather than show it. The artwork is, at times, masterful producing full page illustrations of the Ghostrock-inspired discoveries of Copernicus Blackburne. That strength should have been used to more effectively show rather than tell.  

If you want a glimpse at your Mad Scientist’s future, give The Devil’s Six Gun a read. The game artifact is the stats for the Gun itself. This special pistol does more and more damage with each new hit but drives the user slowly insane. 

The Kid
Writer - C. Edward Sellner
Artist - Oscar Capristo, Alajandro Aragon
Colorist - C. Edward Sellner
Letterer - Jacob Bascle

The Kid is my second favorite comic in this series. The writing is clever with surprises that make you go ‘oh yeah’. I love it when a reveal that makes you go back and reread it from a new point of few. All the elements that make comics fun to read came together in The Kid.

The Kid revolves around Billy the Kid placed in the Deadlands setting. This highlights one of the things that attracts me to Deadlands, real historical figures reimagined in a new setting. In this case, Billy is a monster hunter with some special talents.

In the story, a pack of werewolves attack Billy's family as they travel West for a better life. An old Indian Shaman saves Billy and trains him in the art of defeating supernatural evil inside the Hunting Grounds. Billy returns on a mission to avenge his family. The Kid offers a great view of the Hunting Grounds and Indian shamanism woven into a clever tale.


Much like Death was Silent, this work strikes the right balance between telling the story with words and art. Clever writing and great art place this in the ‘must read’ category for Deadlands fans. I can’t wait for future tales with The Kid. I only hope he meets up with the Cooper Brothers someday.

Conclusion

In the original printings, The Kid was a short serial at the end of each comic. Visionary combined the story into it's own book to be read in one sitting. I wish they had done that from the beginning. It might have given the other creative teams more room to develop their stories. In the current releases of the Deadlands comics, Visionary replaced the space used for The Kid with concept sketches and previews of the next round of Deadlands comics.  The art for the next series looks amazing.

Some of the stories suffer from too few pages for too much story. I assume the attempt was to please two sets of readers; those that know and love Deadlands and those interested in reading tales of Wild West horror. In a few cases, the writers felt the need to fill in the blanks with narration and back story. My opinion is they shouldn't have worried about it. Tell a good story and let the readers infer the setting. The Deadlands fans know the setting and others probably don't care

Each work has something going for it. The Kid and Death Was Silent are the best of the set, Black Water and The Devil's Six Gun are great for explaining aspects of the Deadlands setting, while Massacre At Red Wing provides some nice eye candy although the story bothered me.

Please feel free to leave comments on what you thought of the Deadlands Comics. Luckily for we Deadlands fans, more comics are on the way.

Links of Interest

Visionary Comics
C. Edward Sellner on Twitter
Deadlands at Pinnacle
Savage Worlds Posts
Deadlands Posts

6 comments:

  1. They look good. Big fan of the game and trying to keep up my comic reading, so will try and hunt these down. Don't suppose you know of any plans for a trade paperback on the way?

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  2. You can purchase electronic copies by clicking on the link in the comic name. The other way is to click on the drivethrurpg banner at the top of the page and searching for Deadlands. There are also Deadlands Dime Novels. DriveThruRPG has a print on demand feature if you don't like eBooks.

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  3. Your can pre-order the trade paperback here! - http://quickcomics.com/comic/deadlands-convention-pre-order

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    1. Is Visionary going to be at Comic-con in 2 weeks?

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  4. Ensign ExpendableJuly 3, 2012 at 12:33 AM

    I'm a big fan of Death was Silent too. I used the story (altered slightly) to introduce a new player to both the Deadlands setting and the Savage Worlds rules a few weeks ago (as an extra human caught up in the story) and he ended up practically jumping on the furniture with excitement by the end. It really sets the tone nicely of what I was trying to introduce.

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    1. That's a great gaming story. I love it when the players submerge into the story. I hope to crank up a Deadlands campaign as soon as my writing schedule clears a bit. Hopefully I'll be as successful as you.

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