I’ve recently taken to listening to a number of podcasts on my way home from work as a way of unwinding and casting away the cares of the day. It’s working well! One of the other upshots of this is that that I’m being exposed to titles I wasn’t aware of and finding some great new reading material as a result.
One of the podcasts I really enjoy is iFanboy - in fact they have two - iFanboy’s Pick of the Week, which is a weekly overview of comic news and reviews, and then iFanboy Don’t Miss, which is an in-depth interview with one creator. It was on an episode of Don’t Miss that I was “introduced” to Cullen Bunn and his Oni Press title The Sixth Gun, which has two trade paperback volumes out to date. I’m going to have a look at the first volume, The Sixth Gun Book One: Cold Dead Fingers, this evening.
I wouldn’t count either horror or western as a favourite genre, but the mixture of the two sounded so strange I thought this was worth checking out. I’m very glad I did. This is a compelling story with deep, interesting characters and fantastic art by Brian Hurtt. It has all the makings of a classic saga.
|Our protagonists, Drake Sinclair and Becky|
The plot centers around six mystical guns which each possess a unique power. Each is “bonded” to their owner, and the only way to disconnect the owner and gun is the owner’s death. The next person to touch the gun becomes the new bonded owner. The guns can do things like cause a fiery death, give the owner eternal youth, and use the spirits or forms of those it has killed as deadly weapons. Not the kind of magic you’d want to come up against.
The guns belonged for quite some time to the story’s villain, General Oleander Beford Hume, and his band of bad guys and girl - Hume’s wife, Missy. As the story opens, Missy and Hume’s men are in the process of resurrecting Hume, and are intent on retrieving Hume’s gun from its current owner, an ill and elderly man being cared for by his step-daughter, Becky, who unintentionally becomes the owner of the gun when her step-father is killed and through the gun gains the ability to see flashes of the future.
The only thing standing in the way of Becky and the Humes is Drake Sinclair, the protagonist of the story. I won’t say “hero”, as Sinclair has a shady past and unclear motives. He seems to have a strong moral center, but we don’t really learn what is driving him, and it’s clear that he has secrets that will be revealed as the series progresses. Sinclair and his offsider, Billjohn, join with Becky on a journey driven by her visions, and as they progress, the guns begin changing hands.
|The terrifying General Hume and his wife, Missy.|
There are some fantastic supernatural scenes and ideas in this book which really make it earn its horror tag. Things like the Gallows Tree, a group of restless spirits from whom Sinclair seeks guidance, typify the kind of ideas and events that burn themselves into your mind as you read this book.
According to iFanboy’s interview with Bunn, this first arc was written as a story that could stand along or be continued. There are some resolutions by the end of the trade, but there is very little in the way of big answers in this volume, and I’m glad that Bunn and Hurtt have been able to continue to explore the world they’ve created, but . We go back as far as Hume’s discovery of the guns and an exploration of Sinclair’s relationship with the Humes, but the origin of the guns themselves, their true meaning and the motivations of most of the main characters are yet to be understood.
All of this is accompanied by great art from Brian Hurtt. Hurtt and Bunn have worked together before, most notably on The Damned, also from Oni Press. Hurtt has created a unique world within The Sixth Gun and has given its characters and places a distinct, idiosyncratic look. There is a cartoonish element to his art, which you might think would dilute the horror aspect of the tale, but Hurtt actually uses it to accentuate the dark and scary side of The Sixth Gun world. I particularly love the way he draws the General and Mrs Hume - it’s when they are on panel that his art truly imbues the terror the script intends. Hurtt is a true artistic talent.
|The "Gallows Tree" is a great example of the horror aspects of The Sixth Gun|
One of the things that I really enjoy about independent comics is the sense that anything could happen - indie creators can play with their characters and plots with a freedom that mainstream characters can only dream of. This is certainly the case here - the deaths come thick and fast, and no one is exempt. As the story progresses, it’s easy to see how the changing ownership of the guns could lead to significant cast changes as the big picture of the mystery unfolds. I can’t wait to see what happens!
All up, that’s a definite two thumbs up for The Sixth Gun. If you love either western or supernatural themes, this is definitely for you, but if those themes aren’t really your thing, don’t be put off. This is a very satisfying read, and I’m very much looking to the next volume, The Sixth Gun Book 2: Crossroads, which has just been released.
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