Death and the Wild West go together like chocolate and peanut butter or Australians and vegemite. From the harsh weather and even harsher land to forced labor and just-plain villainy, it’s no wonder that the horizon of US expansion is littered with the bodies of the dead. But from all the bad, something good always comes and in this case, it’s a rich history of legacy, traditions, and wild gods that still shake the earth something fierce. In BOOM! Studios newest release, Death be Damned, we see how far one man goes to find his wild gods and the length one woman goes for retribution. A retelling of the classic revenge story, the comic attempts to take a peek behind the veil in the bloody west but drops short of a truly distinctive experience. That’s not to say there aren’t good things about it.
The comic focuses on Miranda Coler and Joseph Murray, two strangers who are twined by fate and tragedy. Miranda, a prairie wife who suddenly finds herself the only survivor of her family’s massacre, immediately hops on the only thing still living, their incredulous horse, and rides after the killers. Joseph, on the other hand, is the only mortician in the small town of South Pass City, Wyoming, a job he volunteers for in attempt to search for answers about the netherworld. With every new body, he dances the rituals of his Zuni ancestors in hopes of having the corpse speak of its experience, but no such luck, until Miranda shows up. Unfortunately, she’s only in interested in cold, hard revenge and if he want’s answers, he’ll have to join her in the maw.
At first glance, Death be Damned doesn’t seem to offer much in the way of weird western. Even the cover, while beautiful, is a bit unimaginative with a blood-splattered Miranda clutching a gun and staring off to the left, only a hanging wisp on her arm to clue the reader in of a horror angle. But, for those who have been turned off by westerns before and wish to join the fold or are just still riding high on The Revenant, Death be Damned will give you that kick you need. It has the same sharp violence and unknown horizon that made the genre so popular and the bizarre end of the work plunks it dead straight into weird western. The thing is, if you have read any other weird western work or have been checking out the latest weird western craze, it’s not anything you haven’t seen before. It’s very by-the-plot with its Native American mysticism, a revenge driven protagonist, and drunken saloons. But if you can judge a book by heart, this is three times its size. It’s a comic that tries hard and will appeal to first time readers.
The writers behind the project are not new to the world of entertainment. Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, better known for their podcast The Thrilling Adventure Hour, have several graphic novels already under their belt, including work with Marvel and Image Comics. With a heavy emphasis on supernatural and action comics, it’s no surprise that Death be Damned has been added to their repertoire. As stated, they write a solid script and with additional words by novelist Andrew Miller, it’s a smooth read with characters having solid purposes to exist. Hannah Christenson’s pens has a fun indy vibe without going too overboard into small press art, like a cross between Jeff Lemire and Guy Davis (BPRD). It’s got a great authentic feel and she brings the same dark passion that she used for Harrow County to Death be Damned.
Fun and entertaining, Death be Damned is a great introduction to those who wish to explore weird westerns, but might be a little too predictable for seasoned readers.