Overview

Dead West

Review

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Dead West

Credits

  • Words: Rick Spears
  • Art: Rob G.
  • Inks: N/A
  • Colors: N/A
  • Story Title: Dead West
  • Publisher: Gigantic
  • Price: $14.95
  • Release Date: Jul 27, 2005

Sergio Leone meets George Romero when a nameless stranger battles zombies in a town more dead and damned than they are.

It’s the time of westward expansion. A small Indian village is decimated, and in it’s place springs a town called Lazarus. Years pass, and the sole survivor of the massacre comes back to where his village once was seeking revenge. The rite he performs places a curse on Lazarus, and soon the dead rise from their graves to prey upon the living. After 7 days a stranger appears, hunting down a fugitive called The Fat Man. The killer is as heartless and cold as the zombies that now control Lazarus. He doesn’t care, though, as he as a bounty to capture, and will do anything and kill anyone to get the job done. 

I love westerns. On the other hand, I haven’t been too hot on zombies and haven’t yet gotten my head around what zombies “mean” beyond being fodder for bullets to the head, screaming women, and grisly death scenes. The zombie western, so prevalent recently in comics these days, is a strange bird to me. But with an open mind, along with the hope of being entertained by a writer and artist whose work I’ve liked in the past, while reading Rick Spears’ and Rob G’s Dead West I was also looking for a little insight into what makes zombies such a pop culture phenomenon. I found just a hint of the latter, but tons of the former.

Dead West is a fast-paced and engrossing read. Writer Rick Spears weaves interesting subplots and deft characterization in with the bullet-riddled action that western and zombie fans alike crave. And as the legions of the undead climbed out of their graves and set upon the cursed town of Lazarus, I noticed that The Indian’s zombies were all white and saw a theme developing—Koyaanisqatsi, life out of balance. That which The White Man has inflicted on others—cold, soulless and savage death—has been turned against him. He is alienated from Nature, himself as well, in the form of the worst thing that a human can become, and thus is being judged by that with which he has judged The Other, those not like him, those considered inferior. Against the backdrop of the age—of the denigration Native American culture and spirituality, of The Indian Wars, Manifest Destiny, and the wild frontier as a place where the law and the barrel of a gun were hardly distinguishable—perhaps the zombie western isn’t such an awkward concoction at all.

Still, though I dig the theme, I gravitated more towards the subplots, all involving mostly nameless characters. The Indian, in seeking revenge for the decimation of his people, is also seeking his father’s approval, thus touching on a universal theme that attains a sad poignancy towards the end as he sees that his search for Powaqqatsi—life in balance—has gone horribly wrong. The Stranger seeks to clear his conscience and obliterate his past by killing the only man who has seen him killing innocents. And Lucy, left pregnant by a criminal who knocked her up out of wedlock, is the only one with any backbone or a sense of right in a town that considers her little more than a whore. All are deeply flawed and out of balance, and each of these characters are as marginalized and “on the outskirts” as the town of Lazarus itself. And like the town’s namesake,each is looking, in whatever twisted way, for redemption in a place that, for a week, is where the dead go when Hell has run out of room.

Rob G.’s frenetic, sketchy style meshes nicely with Spears’ script. Angular and edgy, his art evokes that of The Losers’ Jock. Its raw, cinematic energy pushes character and theme to a place where black and white only exist on the page, the rest too morally ambiguous at best and just plain damned at worse for anything like good and evil to apply. Emotional depth may be hard to find in a zombie story, but it’s right there on Lucy’s face when she sees her lover after hours of swinging in the noose, then cutting himself loose and becoming something that horrifies her. And that depth that pulls readers into stories is also there when The Indian’s father finally passes judgment on him. Finally, in the showdown between The Indian and The Stranger, the single widescreen panel in which we see both as what they truly are while Lazarus burns nails exactly what Dead West is about and will remain with the reader for a long time after the story is finished.

All that said, perhaps the best thing I can say about Dead West is this—zombies may not be my bag, but I’d actually pay to see the movie.

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