This review contains very light spoilers. Skip To The Verdict? »
By now, you’ve probably seen the trailer for the upcoming Cowboys & Aliens film starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, and Olivia Wilde. The trailer seemed to take both genres – gritty western and science fiction suspense – pretty seriously, something I didn’t expect.
It looks like it has the potential for an excellent (if more than slightly deadpan) action thriller. This review isn’t for that film – it isn’t out yet.
Amazingly enough, the 112 page original graphic novel is selling for between 40-60 dollars each on Amazon and Ebay.
Probably because of the film related interest – but that’s still a pretty big inflation from the original 4.99 cover price.
Even though there were 7 variants in the original print run, it must have gotten hard to find since its original release in 2006.
Luckily for me, I was able to borrow a copy to write this review. Luckily for you, there are hardcover and softcover releases coming up to coincide with the film at much more reasonable prices.
Of course, that still leaves the question of whether this comic is any good.
The story here is pretty much what you’d expect. There are cowboys. There are aliens. There are also cowgirls and Native Americans, but that kind of goes without saying.
The book itself is separated into two parts – the “Prologue” is a few pages of flavor written by Andrew Foley with art and colors by Dennis Calero. The main graphic novel is written by Foley along with Fred Van Lente.
The pencils are by Luciano Lima and Magic Eye Studios, with Jeremy Wilson, Silvio Spotti, and Luciano Kars inking. Andrew Elder handles the colors, with Scott O. Brown and Zachary Pennington on letters and design.
Overseeing this whole gang is Scott Michell Rosenberg of Platinum Studios, who is credit here as creating the Cowboys and Aliens concept.
It’s a big team for an independent title, which seems surprising until you notice the location of the studio: Los Angeles, California.
Following this clue, peeking at Rosenberg’s bio in the back (almost a full page, much bigger than any of the other bios, including both writers combined) lends more context: Platinum studios “controls the world’s largest independent library of comic book characters and adapts them for film, television and all other media.”
Not sure who independent means in this context, so I can’t evaluate the “largest” claim, but the purpose of the book is clear: We’re selling movie pitches, people. And it looks like it’s working.
I honestly don’t know much about Rosenberg’s previous company, Malibu Comics, except that they put out a lot of titles during the speculation boom (including the Ultraverse) and not much is seen of them today.
Back to the actual content of the book.
The prologue story, all five pages of which are available online here, chronicles America’s history of bloody westward expansion (at the expense of the Native Americans) alongside images of parallel conflicts taking place between a conqueror race of aliens seeking to colonize planets.
It’s a comparison that’s been made before in science fiction, but it’s the next step where the fun comes in – so maybe these two manifest destinies actually meet and they fight, yes?
Perhaps the only surprise is that one of those gunslingers is a girl, but remember that this is a movie pitch – we need a romantic interest.
I’m not knowledgeable enough to tell you precisely how offensive these “Apache” are, but it seems that some effort was made to keep it classic without being overly stereotypical.
Even with effort – they’re smart, even tempered, quick to pick up new technology and come to well reasoned solutions – I’m sure actual Apache culture is much more nuanced than what’s presented here. So maybe medium-low offensive?
I suppose we’ll allow it because this is intended to be a send up of the Western genre and not any kind of accurate depiction.
And it’s very quick to break from the standard as a sonic boom pierces the sky and perspective shifts to the tribe’s warriors, then quickly again to the alien invaders who have just crash landed and slaughtered the “savages” – a term they use for any human, of course.
The aliens are a mix of conquered races and are relatively bureaucratic as far as invading armies go. The bad guys are written as recognizable jerkwads, not the “strange creatures we couldn’t hope to understand” kind of ET (which kind of looks more like what the trailer for the movie suggests, and I hope they go for – I always found the Alien style offworlders to be much more terrifying than ugly foot soldiers with fancy guns.)
In the comic it works. I particularly liked a scene where the invading commander seemed to be holding a clipboard (or maybe an ipad style device.)
The whole shebang is a pretty silly action oriented affair. The dialogue isn’t anything special, but it’s not jarring either.
The art, similarly, is serviceable. It gets the job done and the story told, sometimes looking a little more awkward than you’d expect from such a large team. Or perhaps it’s because this is such a large team and they’re doing a job more than crafting their own individual masterpieces.
Some of the backgrounds are well crafted, with textured detail work, and overall composition that fits the action well, but not a page goes by without some annoying anatomy or facial structure.
This may be an unfair comparison (to the internet) but I was reminded of some of the better crafted but less unique webcomics out there. None of the over the top quirky insanity that makes Dr. McNinja so great, but perhaps similar artistic ability put through a bigger budget.
I should use words with generally positive connotations without too much enthusiasm.
The good guys do their thing, the humans come together. People fall in love across cultural boundaries, there are the expected betrayals.
There isn’t much in store in terms of surprises.
Once you get past the amusing premise, everything plays out just how you’d expect from a summer blockbuster, with all the good and bad that entails – stupid moments designed to cater to certain audiences as well as attempts at doing something different just to do something different.
Not enough risks are taken for this graphic novel to ever really fail. It knows its a comic and it plays for laughs.
As for the movie, it seems like it’s taking the general concept in a direction more suited to a high production feature – same amount of action but less farce, more sheen. I’m all for a couple hours full of hard jawed, slow talking cowboys confronting the unknown in corridors filled with flickering lights.
I hope the aforementioned deadpan trailer is true to the rest of the film.
Not amazing and certainly not worth 50 bucks on ebay. Maybe worth pre-ordering the reasonably priced hardcover if you’re a fan of this kind of content. Probably perfectly priced at the original 4.99.
Apparently my hunch based on the content and packaging (“Creator” Bio especially) was correct: this was entirely an attempt to get a movie made right from the start.
The only real surprise here is that the comic is kind of enjoyable.
This title stands alone.
No prior reading required.
I’m honestly not sure where’s best to go after reading this. When I think Westerns and Comics, I think Jonah Hex.
But when I think weird western influenced work, I think Preacher. Anyone have any other recommendations?
Of course once the movie is out, the next step would be to see the film!