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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Copperhead Volume 1 . Jay Faerber (Writer), Scott Godlewski (Art), Ron Riley (Colourist), Thomas Mauer (Letters) Image Comics (2015)

A very engaging space western that manages the difficult task of both setting up the situation and cast and nailing the genre requirements with flair.  Clara Bronson is the incoming sheriff in the miles-from-nowhere mining town of Copperhead. The deputy sheriff is a non-human who is both resentful at being passed over for the job and from a species on the losing side of an earlier conflict with humanity while the local mining tycoon is used to being listened to by the sheriff. With an incident at a hillbilly residence out of town and Clara’s son behaving like a boy the story gathers momentum and moves steadily down to the closing hook for the next arc. The action is great, it is cleverly used to introduce and reveal the personalities of the cast and fill in the context for the story.
The story bones of a Western are easily transplanted to other contexts, the problem is to make sure that the balance between both is maintained without losing something essential for either. Jay Faerber makes it look easy in Copperhead, the details fit so closely that it just look completely natural, from Clara’s arrival in town which nicely establishes her credentials as someone not to be messed with, to the Natives, the hostile original inhabitants of the planet that Copperhead is located on. Add non-human hillbillies, a drunken town doctor, an overbearing mining tycoon and war veterans who are also artificial life forms and the mix of genres is set. Jay Faerber makes the fantastically difficult task of ensuring that none of the cast are clich├ęs but are recognisable with deceptive ease, they emerge with individual voices and demand the reader’s attention in their own right. Add the difficulty of getting everyone and everything in place without boring or baffling the reader and the strength of the writing can be grasped. All the tasks are completed in a compelling fashion, with a nicely snarky humour that gives the story an extra edge.
Scott Godlewski’s art matches the cast with the dusty landscape, they fit into the context just like they live there. The human cast are very expressive; in particular Clara Benson is given an interesting look. She is allowed to look tense and irritable without ever being undercut for being so. Clearly she has had some problems and she wears them as anyone might, it gives her manner an edge that changes when she is talking to her son. The styles non-human cast are restrained, their body language is very clear and they are different enough to be alien without being so different that they are a jarring in the context.
Ron Riley’s colours capture the sun beaten atmosphere of Copperhead, it is an industrial town in a hot dusty spot, the colours are somewhat faded, they give the town a lived in look. The colours also nicely play the Western card, it is a frontier town and the colours echo quietly and effectively the colours of Western frontier towns from films. Thomas Mauer’s letters are unobtrusive, they blend in with the art while always being distinct. A hard balance and another that is made to look easy and natural. Copperhead is a great genre mash up that delivers the pleasures of both without having to compromise either.

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