Cheverton and Keable have created a Western mythology around their character Jerusalem West that’s hard to beat. But like I’ve said before about West, it’s much more than a simple Western tale. Interesting time shifts across chapters make it a very non-linear work, encouraging the reader to do a little work and makes re-readings very worthwhile and enjoyable. And then there’s the mystery and magical aspects they throw into the tales that broaden this out into something very, very satisfying.
And here in Stray Bullets they take that mythology to the next stage, in a series of tales that jump around from 1853 to 1967, short moments in the life of Joe (Jerusalem) West, presented as modern myths, truths altered in retelling, maybe stories, about the folklore and legend of the man called West. Each tale is written by Cheverton and illustrated by a different artist, giving each tale a different spin, a slightly new voice, as befits a series of stories telling apocryphal tales.
We start, and end, rather surprisingly, in 1967, with West’s great-grandson in Idaho, doing his best to escape the violence of the war in Vietnam, violence his great-grandpa never managed to escape. They sit underneath an apple tree familiar to readers of previous issues:
(Andrew Cheverton writes, and draws, the prologue and epilogue to Stray Bullets, with West’s great-grandson haunted by dreams of Western violence)
Each artist brings something different to their tales, and they’ve been picked well for the stories they have to tell; whether it’s the beautiful scratchiness of Warwick Johnson Cadwell on a bizarre jail-break for West, the more cartoon style of Rainey giving a comedic touch to the monster in Badwater Lake, or the simpler, more romantic imagery of Jenika Ioffreda on a very early West tale, of childhood sweethearts Joe and Eloise.
Of them all though, it was Emma Price’s art that got me going the most – possibly because it was, in a rather simpler and heavier inked sense, the most like Keable’s and suited the story of West very well. Or partly because, of the stories up to that point, it felt the most truly West-like, rather than a mere interlude? Whatever, the art does fit everything very well.
(Emma Price’s art for Andrew Cheverton’s West story from Stary Bullets – where a young Joe West finds himself in a gang running with what may well be cursed money – although the gang leader aint so convinced – he’ll soon learn.)
Cheverton’s stories, as usual, are a clever and perplexing mix of interesting clues to the mystery of West, wrapped up in some great storytelling. Somewhere in Cheverton’s house I like to imagine there’s a huge map, detailing West’s life – just so he can get everything in order when he keeps jumping forwards and back in time to tell these intriguing and thoroughly entertaining tales. Every time a new issue comes out, I can’t help but go right back to the beginning and find even more connections, more little elements that go to prove how tightly Cheverton has the entire saga mapped out.
But…. dammit, I was really hoping I wouldn’t have to say this, but here it is….. West works best, does the magic thing of dropping me right into a story, losing myself in a new world, when it’s a combination of the two men who created the character – writer Andrew Cheverton and artist Tim Keable.
And that’s the (admittedly minor) disappointment I had with Stray Bullets. It’s something I feel almost bad saying, as I had great fun reading the comic, piecing all the clues together, enjoying everything Cheverton and the great artists threw at me. But my problem, that slight unease, nagging and uncertain, lodged at the back of my mind, suddenly sprang forth toward the end of the book with this image:
That’s the second page of the story illustrated by Tim Keable for Stray Bullets – the final tale in the comic.
And there I am, right back in the story of West, as Jerusalem West finds violence and revenge in Durango’s Bar. As good as Stray Bullets is, it takes the combination of Cheverton AND Keable to make it perfect.
It’s no bad thing, for two men to be tied up completely with their creation, to make my little heart fill with a reader’s joy when they come together. Except when I’m meant to be enjoying the latest West comic as an anthology – then, it becomes a slight problem. You see, in the existing West stories I’ve already seen Keable go through enough changes in style to know this could have been done exclusively by Cheverton and Keable but time constraints forced the issue and if any West issue fits the multiple artist bill it’s this one – with its apocryphal nature.
However, a second reading (and then a third after very enjoyably going back through the entire series thus far) did much to encourage me to give the other stories a better go – trying not to think “what if Keable would have drawn this”. And as long as I kept that little mantra going round in my head, all was a lot better.
West: Stray Bullets may not be the best West comic I’ve ever read. And it’s very nature means I’d never recommend it as the first West comic you get. But, if like me, you’ve thrilled to the saga so far, this is an essential addition – just remember keep ignoring the little voice asking why it couldn’t all be Keable’s vision.
However, if you’re new to West, although this isn’t the comic to start with – I’d definitely recommend you go back to the beginning, with West Volume 1: Justice. In fact, I’m almost jealous of you, coming new to West, you’ll be starting a path I explored a while back – it wont take that long before you’ll be hooked.
West: Stray Bullets and the previously published West Volume 1: Justice and the 2-issue Distance are all available at the Angry Candy store. The next two issues: Confederate Dead and Points West are back to the perfect team of Cheverton and West, who were recently interviewed by Matthew Badham for the FPI Blog – well worth a read.