The Sixth Gun: Vol. 1
Created by: Cullen Bunn, Brian Hurtt
Published by: Oni Press
ISBN: 1934964603 (Amazon)
It’s not easy to sell me on genre books, even when they combustibly mix genres with verve, spice, and zest. I’m perfectly happy to not investigate superhero books, westerns, or efforts that seek to out-Tolkien Tolkien. Vampires, werewolves, zombies, pirates, ninjas? None of these really do it for me. And even though I was once a savage, avid reader of noirish detective-fiction, I’ve passed on countless opportunities to engage some of the newer works in the genre.
So when I saw that the The Sixth Gun was a supernatural western adventure with zombies, my pulse remained resolutely subterranean. (After all, I had read and barely enjoyed the Wild West volume of Mignola’s Witchfinder not three weeks earlier and didn’t feel I was in the market for anything near the same neighbourhood.) Though I had picked up the first volume of The Sixth Gun on word-of-mouth alone, upon discovering the provenance of its primary story elements, I quietly slipped it to the bottom of my reading queue ‘til I could finish “important” books like Duncan the Wonder Dog and Mother, Come Home and the next volume of Saturn Apartments (okay, not so important).
I’d like to say that Bunn and Hurtt devastated my prejudices and wholly won me over to their rather unique brand of device, but I can’t. Not really. I mean, sure, by the time I had finished The Sixth Gun I was happy I had read it and interested enough that I’ll probably check out the next arc in their story of devil-forged weaponry and those cursed to wield corpse-makers. But, honestly, it wasn’t until the last chapters of the book that I felt myself easing into their story. And I certainly haven’t picked up any interest in pursing other works that mix cowboys and zombies.
So what didn’t work for me? Actually—there wasn’t anything I disliked. It’s a fun yarn and pretty inventive. If it had one flaw—and here we use the term flaw loosely enough so that it doesn’t mean flaw but really just means “runs counter to my ideal preferences”—it’s that The Sixth Gun focuses more on proving its action than it does in creating solid character moments. While the protagonist eventually have their portraits fleshed out somewhere in the neighbourhood of satisfying, it comes in trickles and most of the other characters remain at arm’s length in terms of character building. But I mean: this is probably how this kind of book should be.
And it’s not really fair for me to wish that Bunn and Hurtt gave me something more like Before Sunrise with the occasional influx of undead, senseless murders, and a saber-wielding Confederate devilman, when really, their book almost demands the whimsy of an action-packed 28 Days Later mixed with Roman Holiday (in terms of tone, if not plot direction).
So then, what did I find laudable? I felt bad for Bunn since I’m sure most reviews are going to point to Hurtt’s art before getting to Bunn’s writing, but that’s a tradition to which I’m going to contribute. Hurtt does a fantastic job selling these characters. Especially the women. In many cases, his men come off a bit flat—they’re just rugged frontier brutes. But Hurtt invests a liveliness and personality into both Becky Moncrief and the Widow Hume that carries the rest of the book. There’s nothing wrong with Bearded Drifter One or Clean-Shaven Rough Rider Two, but the two women sing themselves right off the page. The joy and excitement Hurtt invests into the Widow Hume’s expressions are priceless (and her mania, contagious). When she sees Olivander Hume at work, his glory returning, she is exultant and the reader can feel the strength of her affections and ambitions. And Becky Moncrief is well-portrayed as the distressed damsel who is herself prepared to cause no small distress on her own. Bunn’s script requires growth in her character and Hurtt is happy to provide.
Bunn, for his part, stays out of the way enough for Hurtt and the story to run through their paces unimpeded. I suppose that’s not entirely fair, since an author getting out of the way is actually a pretty admirable quality in an author. So I guess it is fair—it just didn’t sound it. Bunn does a good job with the old-timey dialogue and its pretty accurate according to what a childhood spent watching Westerns and Civil War movies has taught me. From the book’s cover, I almost expected a rollicking insane comedy (kind of an Atomic Robo, only with cowboys and zombies), but Bunn plays this as straight-up dramatic adventure—albeit with some pretty weird elements that lean toward humourous by their innate absurdity.
The Sixth Gun is a well-made book that I enjoyed in spite of myself. And it’s got enough story chops that I’m interested enough to pick up the second volume to see if it can sunder my expectations as well as the first one did.
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.
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