17 July 2006

Review: Iron West

Iron West
By Doug TenNapel (Image Comics, 2006; $14.99)

Going for wacky is a dangerous gambit, particularly in comics where it can easily drift over into unintentional camp or, even worse, come completely unhinged and end up convoluted and unfunny, so when I realized Doug TenNapel's Iron West included both Sasquatch and the Loch Ness Monster in the mix, I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Fortunately, TenNapel walks a net-free tightrope like a pro, delivering a rollicking good time filled with moments of "He's going to fa--Wow!" that begs for adaptation to the big, or small, screen. Iron West's protagonist is one Preston Struck, a selfish outlaw who finds himself presented with a chance to be a hero and runs from it; several times, in fact. Fate has other plans for him, though, and as likeable scoundrels go, he's got the kind of goofy charisma that makes you believe that, underneath the bluster, there's a good, decent man.

Iron West's plot is an outlandish one featuring killer robots accidentally awakened by greedy prospectors in 1898 California, a mysterious shaman cryptically named Two Rivers, the aforementioned Sasquatch and Loch Ness Monster, the proverbial gruff sherrif and a whore with a heart of gold, and several more engaging characters, human and otherwise -- all of whom come together in a wild ride of a story that left me satisfied, but wanting more. TenNapel's black-and-white artwork is clean and distinctive and, while his pacing is full-steam ahead, his layouts are clear and flow smoothly. I wasn't aware of it until afterwards, but he's also an animator, known for his Nickelodeon show, Catscratch -- as well as the creator of the video game, Earthworm Jim -- so his storytelling skills make sense.

Iron West is the latest positive example of the new Image Comics: off beat, entertaining, quality work by creators with distinctive voices and original stories to tell. Coupled with the likes of the excellent Stagger Lee (review coming soon) and, by many accounts, the first two volumes of Flight, Five Fists of Science, Cobbler's Monster and 24/seven among others (none of which I've personally read yet), Image is proving to have as good an eye for original graphic novels as any of the mainstream publishers who are now jumping into that pool, often simply reprinting material smaller publishers took a chance on first. The sooner Image completes its extreme makeover from being a premiere purveyor of lame spandex imitators and full-of-potential but ridiculously late serials, to the home of a diverse range of original graphic novels and trade collections of high-quality but under-read serials, the better.

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