“Your entire life shall be death” – Distance issue 2
By Andrew Cheverton and Tim Keable
West: Distance is the first story in Volume 2 of the chronicles of Jerusalem West whom I’ve already met in the graphic novel graphic novel West Volume One: Justice. But that West was older, possible wiser, definitely more cynical and weighed down with unrelenting sorrow, his life a never ending cycle of violent retribution.
In issue 1 of West: Distance (reviewed here) Cheverton and Keable took us back in time, to a younger Jerusalem West fighting for the Union in the American Civil War. It’s 1862 and Tennessee is awash with blood of America’s young men, West is serving as a sniper and has seen many, many violent deaths through his sights.
He spends his time between violence lost in writing to his “darling Eloise“, a love we find out is already lost to him, horribly, painfully, and violently. It was that death that set his life on the course we joined it in Justice, that death that hardened his heart.
(A younger Jerusalem West receives advice he’ll be sticking to in later life, where his guns will never be quiet for too long.)
But whilst Distance may feature a younger heartbroken man we soon realise he’s already consumed by the violence he sees all around him and his need for vengeance is merely sidelined by this war.
Sidelined that is until fate plays a hand and he sees an old enemy through his sights. The shot fired in issue 1 was not meant to kill this man, merely allow West to get close, in the midst of battle. Issue 2 sees him get face to face, ready to exact his cold revenge and make good a promise he made to his love’s killers:
“I’ll find you. I’ll kill you.”
“I’ll watch your bastard eyes as you die.”
(West comes face to face with his past. Tension bleeds from the Cheverton’s story and Keable’s art does everything right – Matt Wagner? Kurtzman? Who else can you see in those gorgeous close ups?)
Slowly, through carefully constructed flashbacks, we begin to understand the reasons for West’s hatred and why this man deserved to die. But will his revenge bring him the peace he so desperately craves? Sadly, having already read West:Justice and the stories that take place chronologically after Distance, the answer is forever going to be no.
West is created to be a vengeful, wandering spirit, and it’s a role Cheverton and Keable are brilliantly exploring through all of the West stories I’ve read so far.
The comic rounds out with a short by Cheverton and Keable; Mrs Earnshaw’s Telegram, 6-pages reprinted from AccentUK’s Western anthology. In this short, Keable demonstrates yet another art style and Cheverton yet again shows just how tightly his West stories all come together, as Mrs Earnshaw’s Telegram is no mere fill-in, but contains a few important plot elements to compliment and inform our ever-growing portrait of Jerusalem West.
(Keable’s art style in West, over the seven stories I’ve seen has an ability to shift and change, each style suited to the tale Cheverton’s telling. This is from the short at the end of Distance: Mrs Earnshaw’s Telegram.)
The more I read of Cheverton and Keable’s West, the more impressed I am. It’s transcending the genre western and turning into something quite magnificent. Cheverton is putting so much into creating a man’s life, told deliberately out of sequence, yet all fitting together beautifully, slowly and requiring thought and concentration on the reader’s part.
The flashbacks here, and the sequences in Mrs Earnshaw’s Telegram are all integral to the events in West:Justice, just as events in that first volume are echoed and referenced here. Everything is important, everything is worth careful reading. Indeed, West is quickly proving to be exactly the sort of book I love – the one that rewards repeated reading.
And Keable’s art, impressive in Justice, is just a level above here. There’s a simplicity to it, a cleanliness of his work and almost an abstraction of the image that just clicked with me the moment I saw it. I see quite a lot in it, but as usual, it’s through my own preference filter – the close up of West and his victim reminds me greeatly of Matt Wagner, but Wagner channelling Kurtzman – fantastic stuff.
And the openness and white space of pages like the one below just make me wish he’d stick to this style, but part of me is enjoying seeing him try new techniques and styles with each story.
Just like the West: Justice graphic novel, Distance is a great story, from two very talented creators. So far there have been seven stories (5 in Justice, now Distance and Mrs Earnshaw) and there’s a magnificent feeling that we’ve only begun to explore the mystery of West and it’s turning into an intriguing, hugely entertaining Western that’s full of questions, writing that challenges the reader and some absolutely delightful artwork.
The next West saga is entitled Stray Bullets and I’m looking forward to it very, very much indeed.