Westerns have a long and proud tradition in comics. All of the greats worked on westerns. Kirby. Heath. Severin. But, like all proud traditions, times have not always been bright. There was a period of about 25 years where westerns almost completely disappeared. Tastes change. Comics had to be more “realistic”. Comics all but disappeared from the stands. Recently, the western has experienced a resurgence of sorts over at DC/Vertigo. Now the independent companies are coming out with their own western books.
From First Second comes Bloody Chester
This isn’t John Wayne’s heroic old west.
This is the real deal: a filthy, disease-ridden frontier populated by losers, lunatics, and murderers. And when you’re a skinny teenager with no family and a name like Chester Kates, your options are limited. It’s stand up and fight or roll over and die, so Chester, aka “Lady Kate,” is set to fight until it kills him. It isn’t much of a life, but it’s at least straightforward. Until things go all cockeyed when Chester is hired to ride his horse (also named Chester) to a ghost town and burn it to the ground. Except the ghost town doesn’t just boast a tidy collection of mangled corpses: it also has three living inhabitants . . . who won’t be budged.
But Chester’s been hired for a job, and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t burn the town to the last cinder. Thing is, he may just be damned if he does.
Bloody Chester attempts to be several things at once. It is a ghost story. It is a western. It is a mystery. And, for the most part, it works.
Chester is a complex character who does not want anyone’s pity or help. On the flip side he is not really capable of seeing any way to better his life on his own. He is destined to be everyone’s whipping boy and stuck in the same cycle of abuse and degradation. Despite it all, Chester is character who we cannot hope but root for. Een though there is no real hope for him, we want there to be a happy ending for him.
The setting of the story defines Chester. He is sent to a town where there are only a few residents. He has to remove them so the tain can come through. However, there is a horrible plague which has killed almost everyone and threatens to kill anyone who enters. No wonder Chester, a completely expendable piece of trash in the eyes of everyone, is sent there. No one else is desperate enough to go!
The other characters Chester meets in the town are just as desperate. Desperate to hold on to their loved ones. Desperate to find their fame and fortune. Desperate to find meaning in it all. Needless to say they are not very excited to see Chester who offers nothing but the promise of a different kind of misery.
The art in the book is the only real let-down. Chester is of an indeterminate age and gender in the beginning of the book. And, since the townspeople call him “Bloody Kate”, it makes it especially confusing. It isn’t until his shirt is removed while he is seen to by a doctor that it is clear that Chester is actually male.
That is not to say that the art is bad. There are scenes where the art is actually quite good! Especially towards the end of the book where secrets are revealed and the situation crashes towards a resolution, the art is quite evocative. I just wish that there had been a little more character design up front about Chester that would allow the reader to fully engage and accept him from page 1.
Bloody Chester will be released by First Second in July. Ask your LCS to reserve a copy for you today!
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