My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
This rating is for the digital edition, although I don’t think it’d be any different for the print, much as I love glossy pages in my hands. ComiXology is decent at formatting, and I read this on my computer so I had the option of full spreads, single pages, and Guided View. The HTML5 reader is decent, if you haven’t tried it yet.
Issue #1 gets off to a somewhat bumpy start. There’s a story-within-a-story setup reminiscent of older epics—uninvolved characters start off talking about involved characters on the sidelines who are talking about the main character(s). The opening visuals did set a strong mood: the butterfly being crushed, the rabbit being shot in fields associated with the American Midwest before all them railroad tracks came through. Given the limited space it may not have been the best approach, but I’ll discuss what I think the real problem was further down.
I keep having to reread American comics to slot everything into place (just one reread per book, but it’s happened for both ‘Hawkeye’ and here), so I’m wondering if part of it is just me being very, very used to manga-style narrative, which tends to be more linear and use distinct cues to indicate when events aren’t occurring on the same timeline.
Anyway, the actual characters, since the first issue tends to be more setup than anything: there are a bunch introduced here. Introducing the story of Ginny, Death’s daughter, was well done. Two people on a stage, who are also part of the overall narrative, present Ginny’s story to an audience, along with a visual aid—a series of panels—in a way I found appealing. On the one hand, you have the actions of the storytellers and the crowd’s reactions; on the other hand, single panels depicting significant events. I hope to see more of this creative approach when it’s appropriate; it also went well with the Western feel.
I didn’t like the jump to flashback—another manga-legacy; I expect black borders to denote (not that there’s room for that in an American comic)—but you do see one of the most recognizable characters as a little girl right away, so it’s not hard to infer. Just jarring at first. It fits within the introduction, and I don’t think was a bad use of space, but I would rather them waiting until the next issue to introduce the side arc with Alice and the whatever-thing. There were enough hints of a bigger story introduced that this presumably major villain didn’t need to be lumped in, too.
The overall ambience is surreal Western—from my knowledge of the actual West, it’s learning more media-dramatized than strictly historical.
The blurbs I’ve seen have essentially described this as a Western ‘Sandman.’ While DeConnick has also written for some Marvel superhero series, she doesn’t bring quite the gravitas of Gaiman. (Which is, honestly, fine with me. I think he sometimes overdoes it.) The part that reminded me more of ‘Sandman’ was after the comic, when she talks about the road that led her to finally writing ‘Pretty Deadly’ as well as the extra story about the Moon. I cna’t remember which volume of ‘Sandman’ has that going on; I think more than one. It’s been a while
Anyway, bit of a rocky start—a little too ambitious, setting up this huge story, which I’ve noticed happening with webcomics where the creators have had the story raring to go for years—but certainly not a bad one. If you don’t dislike Westerns or magic, give this one a look.