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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Wolf Country# 1. Jim Alexander (Writer), Luke Cooper (Art), Jim Campbell (Letters). Planet Jimbot (2013)

A very smart, multi-genre mashup that neatly side steps the inherent cliches by drawing on a very powerful central idea to give the story considerable force and potential. A lone frontier settlement in hostile territory is the destination for a young man trying to escape his past, he is sent on a patrol on arrival and finds himself in trouble right away. The story moves back to the events that brought him to the settlement and burden of expectations he has brought with him to the settlement.
Jim Alexander has reached for a classic Western set up as the framework for the story, settlers versus hostile natives and the arrival of a potentially disruptive presence in a dangerously unstable situation.  He then adds a nice layer to it by making the settlers vampires and the the natives are werewolves. This is a great set up, there possibilities are wide open and the room to play with and against story ideas from both sources are huge. Without doing any damage to the two sources Jim Alexander takes out one element and adds another which gives the story a very considerable boost and makes its considerably more intriguing.
The element that he removes are humans, vampires and werewolves move to centre stage as this story is about a conflict between two fully developed societies, not between two  fringe elements of human society. This makes the focus of the conflict much more concentrated and reduces the need to explain vampires or werewolves. The story can plunge directly into the conflict without any need to position it in relation to human activity, this strips out a lot from the story and brings it right down to the essential elements. This strongly works with the western sources which always work best as straightforward conflicts set against an unforgiving landscape.
The second element is the one that really pushes the story and offers the greatest room for development and intrigue, the reasons that the vampires have built the settlement is religious, they are following the direction of their god. The werewolves see the vampire encroachment as sacrilege, there can be no compromise as the motives are beyond anything open to change or compromise. The absolute nature of the conflict is superbly explored in the story, Luke, a vampire is trapped by his past and trying to escape it but his past is public property and it casts a very wide net. Jim Alexander takes a very different road than might have been assumed, cleverly sidestepping reader assumptions that the set up creates and brings fresh, smart writing to comic.
Luke Cooper's art is striking and not entirely successful, the cast are distinctive and the facial expressions are first rate, the body language is too stiff. The cast do not move easily, they appear to posed in action states rather than moving through them. The backgrounds, which are a key element in a western are not given enough definition, there is not quite the sense of the harshness of the landscape that frames the conflict. The cast are too much to the forefront, a litle more setting them in a context would be nice.
When the story involves a close up for the cast, the art is first rate, they interact with each other naturally and  add depth to the story. Luke who could easily have been an angst driven teenage cypher or stereotype is given a both teenage look and a personality that shines from the art. A clever, engaging comic well worth reading.
Chief Wizard Note: This is is review copy I was very kindly sent by Jim Alexander. If anyone would like to buy Wolf Country#1 delivered to his or her door, please contact: planetjimbot@gmail.com

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