The Sixth Gun - Book 1: Cold Dead Fingers
The Sixth Gun #1-6
Writer - Cullen Bunn
Artist - Brian Hurtt
Colorists - Brian Hurtt (#1-5); Bill Crabtree (#6)
Editors - James Lucas Jones & Charlie Chu
Creators - Cullen Bunn & Brian Hurtt
With all of the hype around Episode VII right now, I'm reminded of the first time that I viewed Episode I. Sitting in the dark theater with popcorn and soda in hand, I couldn't stop anticipating all of the possibilities ahead of me, and was proud to be part of a legacy's history. This feeling of pride turned into a feeling of disgust however, as the movie pandered to younger and more general audiences, with little to no recognition of hardcore fans. This is the same feeling that I receive whenever I don’t prefer a book that people have encouraged me to read; it’s not the outright Jar-Jar disgust mentioned previously, but it’s a significant let-down nonetheless.
Originally launched in May 2010, The Sixth Gun was part of the release for Free Comic Book Day, with a retail release two months later in July. An occult tale in the Western style, it follows the story of Drake Sinclair, a man who is searching for infamous supernatural pistols, all the while trying to stay ahead of its original owners. Produced by Oni Press, this particular anthology covers the first six issues of the series; it’s important to note that while the first storyarc had general critical acclaim, its anthologies after were nominated for Eisner awards. Following the book’s interesting history, it also includes a spin-off series and an almost-greenlight for a television series.
Level of Artwork and Craft
In terms of art, there were some inconsistencies and small details. and for the most part was not very inspiring or preferred to my tastes. An example of this is the varying degree of eye size, which, even with facial expressions at rest, was inconsistent with panels beforehand. The added mascara-like effect seen with most characters throughout the story drew attention to this variation in a negative way. Facial expression was another slight offender as well, employing wide eyes and snarls to email a range of emotions. Personally, it drew me out of the story at times, while at the patching an ingenuine nature to the characters, never trusting or feeling the weight of their words.
Story Pacing, Movement, and Cohesion
There was nothing to really write about here that stood out to me. It was a very straightforward story that had little to no surprises at all, and it felt more like viewing a movie, in the sense where I didn’t have to be as engaged as I am with other works. No egregious spelling mistakes and every panel in its appropriate place, the editors did a good job, but nobody congratulates the referee on doing their job.
Characterization is something that I look for when investing in a book, but for the most part I was disappointed in its execution. Some characters felt like overused stereotypes, which led to me never really caring about the flight of the protagonists. The characters of Drake and Becky come to mind, the former being a man searching for redemption, while the latter is a sheltered girl thrust into a life of danger. Many stories have used these tropes to a great degree of success, but the addition of genuine motivation makes the character stand apart from the rest. Drake never gives a satisfying reason as to why he left his original crew, stating that he instinctively knew that there was something wrong with the guidance, while only using one panel to hint at repentance for his actions. The only character that I found to semi-connect with was Billjohn O'Henry; his ridiculous name aside, he had enjoyable dialogue and a unique look, but there was never an explanation as to why he was traveling with Drake. Giving no rhyme or reason to his nobility and loyalty was what stopped me from making a full investment in the character, yet his moments in the book were by far the most enjoyable.
Depth of Theme and Thematic Reach
Although I'm not a huge proponent of the horror genre, I always enjoy a great occult story, as long as I don't have to watch it in theaters. Girly screams and months of nightmares aside, the volatility of magic as a whole is always an accessible theme, and the piece does very well to remind the audience of that. The idea of redemption and atonement is touched upon as well, but because of some of the points listed above, I never felt a true investment in the caring of these characters. This is disappointing, to say the least: as a young reader and audience member, I was completely enamored by characters seeking redemption, and will usually be a bit biased when assessing if I like the character or not. Drake Sinclair was no brooding Angel to Becky’s Buffy, but it illustrates the point that these types of tropes can be handled in a fun and interesting way.
Utilization of the Sequential Art Medium
Stating the obvious, I feel like the CGI involved in making this a feature film or television show would have been a little hokey. It is much easier to produce an illustration of say, a zombie rising from the grave and killing someone with a Winchester, but the cost of makeup, special effects, actors, and prop items and blood would be a little impractical for investors looking to earn back their money. It also benefitted from the medium because of the occult nature of the pistols; it is much easier to describe what one of these pistols does (like spread disease or shoot like a cannon) instead of reading it through just text. I feel like this isn’t a very strong argument for using the medium though, which means that any sort of medium could have run with this story and made it pretty successful. Cost effectiveness shouldn’t be the only determining factor for choosing the sequential art medium.
Alright, so one legitimate gripe about the story: how did Drake come about in taking away Mrs. Hume’s gun? I searched through different panels and couldn’t find a time where Drake and Mrs. Hume came in contact with each other during the fight at the Maw, but it states in the Epilogue that he has five of the six guns, the sixth still being in the possession of Becky. This really bothered me, to the point that I went back multiple times to search panels for this event, and I still couldn’t find anything.
The Sixth Gun came recommended to me by someone whose opinion on comic books I highly respect, but I have to admit, I felt a little let down by the story as a whole. From what I’ve heard from other critics though, is that Bunn and Hurtt tighten up their skills together and produce something award-worthy in the coming volume. To be honest, I would not recommend this book as a singular piece, but I would definitely recommend reading this as part of a narrative whole. This is one of those stories that takes a little more time to build steam than usual, but it does come with the promise that the story gets better. At least this didn’t give me the all-encompassing letdown that Episode I gave, so it has that going for it, which is nice.