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Friday, March 04, 2005
Support Your Local Train Robber
As a kid, I never had much patience for Westerns. It was a genre that just never appealed to me, probably because most of the films I was shown took themselves far too seriously. I do remember pestering my parents into taking me to see Legend of the Lone Ranger and Zorro, The Gay Blade, but that almost certainly had more to go with having seen the cartoons. And I probably only watched the cartoons because Tarzan was the lead-in.
The sole exception to this trend was, well, any movie with James Garner in it. There was something very charismatic about his laid-back screen persona, especially in the light-hearted Westerns he made, such as Support Your Local Gunfighter and the absolutely brilliant Support Your Local Sheriff. When I was a kid, James Garner was the coolest thing around.
The Long Haul, the new graphic novel by Antony Johnston and Eduardo Barreto, available March 9th from Oni, reminds me of those James Garner films. You've got a charismatic rogue as the hero, in this case a "retired" bank robber named Cody Plummer, and a colorful cast of supporting players, each one both a charming character in their own rights and evocative of a Western stock role. Cody finds out that the final federal pay-out for railroad construction is soon to be leaving for San Francisco, and it's going to be guarded by Bob Harding, the Pinkerton agent who put him away for bank robbing. Cody gets the whole gang back together for one final heist, with their target the "unrobbable" money carriage. This would give each of them not only more money than they could ever need to retire, but it would be a suitable humiliation of the arrogant Pinkerton man who put Cody away.
Johnston has written a great caper book. The book, and the plan, unfolds wonderfully. The introduction of each member of Cody's gang is like a little Western story all on its own, and the reader is wisely kept out of the loop on the details of Cody's plan, so the actual execution retains excitement and mystery and surprises for the reader, and more than a few unexpected turns. And Eduardo Barreto's art contributes magnificently as well. The opening sequence combines marvelously detailed landscapes, Native American costumes and a train, setting the tone visually for the book in a compelling manner. Barreto's art has that fantastic combination of expressive characters, detail and smooth, clean lines that makes for great comics art, and it's a combination that you don't often see in comics anymore.
This was a fun book, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It combines the best elements of a good crime caper story with a Garner-esque Western comedy. And the creative talent is great as well. I've yet to be disappointed in any of Antony Johnston's work that I've read, and more work from Eduardo Barreto is always going to be a good thing. With the return of interest in Western comics, this is a more than welcome addition to the ranks of quality Westerns.