New To You Comics #103: Paranormal Wild West Shootouts In ‘The Sixth Gun’ Vol. 1
by Brendan M. Allen
Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.
New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some of his favorites at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Every NTYC title is brand new to one of them. Every once in a while a title will land with both of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule.
This week, they’ll dabble in some paranormal Wild West gunplay in Oni Press’ The Sixth Gun, by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. Here’s what Oni tells us about the book:
‘During the darkest days of the Civil War, wicked cutthroats came into possession of six pistols of otherworldly power. In time, the Sixth Gun. the most dangerous of the weapons, vanished. When the gun surfaces in the hands of an innocent girl, dark forces reawaken. Vile men thought long dead set their sights on retrieving the gun and killing the girl. Only Drake Sinclair, a gunfighter with a shadowy past, stands in their way.
But the guns have a power… and a destiny… more terrifying than anyone imagines!’
Brendan M. Allen: First off, I love a good series that includes or runs parallel to historical events. The Sixth Gun has Civil War zombies, Pinkertons, and everything you’d expect from a great Spaghetti Western/samurai flick, all smashed up with haunted guns and an oracle in the form of a Gallows Tree. So many things I love, all in the one book.
I actually don’t think I read all the way through this first arc. I thought I had, but I may have just read the first chapter, which was Oni Press’ FCBD 2010 offering, and then maybe two chapters beyond that, but for some reason, I don’t remember the bottom half of this thing at all. It was a lot of fun to pick it back up and finish the arc, 12 years late.
Tony Thornley: So I’m really conflicted about this one. I love Weird Westerns as a genre. It surprises me that there aren’t more in comics. It’s a genre that isn’t far divorced from superheroes, and it’s always a lot of fun. The genre can encompass a lot of different stories, which Bunn just nails here- horror, and fantasy in particular.
But I had one major complaint that I’ll get to in a minute. Overall I had a lot of fun though.
Brendan: I’m usually not a huge fan of narration boxes or floating heads. We’re spared the floating heads, but The Sixth Gun kicks off with A LOT of those narration boxes. I don’t mind them so much here, because it’s a period piece that needs the context, and Bunn shows a lot of restraint when it comes to the clichés associated with every one of the genres he’s playing with here.
This was also very early in his career (2nd or 3rd series IIRC), and it’s really cool to see how much his style has evolved since.
Tony: Yeah, it’s not rough like a lot of creators’ early stories are. But you can see a difference.
Now one thing I have to point out- I struggle with former Confederate soldiers as protagonists in any western. As antagonists, yes, absolutely, use them. But Drake Sinclair, one of our two protagonists, was a brutal soldier who fought for the South. He didn’t pull away from that until his commanding officer, main villain General Hume, offered him a supernatural weapon.
Now there might be more in the later volumes- distaste for the hate inherent in the Confederacy and such- but in this volume, it’s pretty glaring. Can Confederates be redeemed? Maybe. Probably, actually. But that’s not present in the text here.
Brendan: Fair. And I honestly haven’t read the subsequent arcs to know if he remains a dirtbag, or if he finds redemption at some point. Confederates, as you said, are generally great fodder for getting their asses handed to them in comics. Confederates and Nazis, right?
Although, speaking of Nazis, there is the whole ‘Rage Within The Machine’ trope, which this would squarely fall into. In Nazi stories, this would be the character that is fully a Nazi, but when the reality of what the Nazis are doing hits them, they course correct mid-stream.
Drake does start out pretty sleazy, withholding information from Becky, betraying the Gallows Tree… The dude seems like he’s usually looking out for himself, above all else, and there’s really no indication that will change down the road.
Tony: Now that’s a trope I really like. And it’s really effective in how Bunn writes it. Sinclair definitely has a redemption arc here. I don’t know if he deserves it quite yet from what we see, but I do like the progress he makes.
Brendan: Cullen Bunn and Bri Hurtt go way, way back to when they both worked for The Fantasy Shop in St. Louis, Missouri. They broke into comics together, with The Damned in 2006, and the pair has worked on many projects together since.
When a creative team is that familiar with each other, it really comes through on the page. This is another of those books where the art is so married to the script, neither works nearly as well without the other.
Tony: I dig Hurtt’s style here. It has some Mignola influences, but he’s also unafraid of the big bombast. He really paces the story well too. Everything is driven forward by his layouts. He’s a great storyteller.
Brendan: The evolution of the six guns is pretty cool to see visually, too. From spiked clubs to sabers to pistols, every incarnation of the unholy wrenches is distinctive, but still, clearly, the same weapons in different forms.
Tony: Oh yeah, I dug that too. Smart design work all around.
Brendan: This was a fun one to pick back up and finish. Makes me want to dig into the subsequent arcs as well, and I’m happy to see there are at least nine volumes on Comixology Unlimited, so it’ll be easy for me to binge at least that far.
Where’d you land?
Tony: Aside from that concern I brought up- which is definitely a big deal for me- I generally enjoyed it. It’s a pretty fun Western, and this volume is a solid standalone story.
Brendan: Word. What’s up next?
Tony: There’s a movie coming out soon featuring a lesser known superhero. Let’s look at one of his bigger stories. How about Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale?