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Reed Gunther in Fish out of Slaughter #4

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Reed Gunther in Fish out of Slaughter #4

Credits

  • Words: Shane Houghton
  • Art: Chris Houghton
  • Publisher: Shane and Chris Houghton
  • Price: $3.00
  • Release Date: Jun 30, 2010

I recently saw Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York, a period film set in New York City during the Civil War. It was a wonder to look at and there has never been a performance by Daniel Day-Lewis that hasn’t left me awestruck. But aside from those two redeeming tidbits, the movie bored me into a lulled state of apathy.

Afterwards, when I read the fourth installment of Shane and Chris Houghton’s original Reed Gunther series, I found myself asking: “Why couldn’t Gangs of New York possess some of the charisma and energy that’s in this comic?” For this series continually raises its own bar of originality, humor, and wit—all the while maintaining a pace that few independent comics would ever dream of setting for themselves. This issue is Gangs of New York meets Mad magazine.

I first read of the adventures of Reed Gunther and his faithful (bear) steed, Sterling, back in January of this year. It was goofy, slapstick, and ridiculous. And I loved it: every last panel, every single word balloon. But more than that, it wasn’t a book I quickly forgot. It would reoccur in my memory from time to time, always encouraging a small chuckle.

The fourth issue is no different. For a refresher, Reed and Sterling have been trekking across the American landscape in order to save their gal-pal Starla from the sinister Mr. Picks, a vile capitalist (really, aren’t they all?) who’s using a magical idol to create monsters for his freak-show business. If that isn’t wildly original, I don’t know what is.

Reed and Sterling track down Picks and Starla to a Manhattan that can only exist in the nineteenth century. The creators have been careful (as far as I can tell) not to overtly date their comic, much the same way Basin City of Frank Miller’s Sin City can’t be specifically placed in time or space. We’re given hints here and there, but nothing is concrete. For example, we see a very large executive with a bushy moustache sitting in the Oval Office who I can only place as President Taft. So, there it is.

The president is rightly concerned that the country is being overrun with demons and monsters created by the idol. The president’s solution: dispatch Special Agent Mundy (perhaps a nod to Dexter’s Special Agent Lundy character?), an old-world version of the Men in Black who could moonlight as Honest Abe’s stunt double. This dude is no-nonsense, which causes a lot of wacky tension when he runs into the nothing-but-nonsense Reed.

Reed Gunther is such a good comic because writer Shane and artist Chris Houghton love what they’re doing. Perhaps their dynamic is due to the blood they share, but whatever the case may be, they’re producing one of my favorite indie books today. Shane’s writing is filled with genuine humor while never slowing up on advancing the story. He lays out simple, smooth, and pithy plots that are not formulaic. His characters are rich and colorful and oddly relatable.

As for artist Chris’ illustrations: they’re superb. He maintains the light feeling of a comic strip while focusing on intense detail when it’s required. The skylines of early Manhattan are quite impressive, as is the level of detail he places into the industrial steam-punk setting of Agent Mundy’s headquarters.

Reed Gunther is a book with an electric energy that sparkles with every turn of the page, and it only gets better in the fourth issue. For anyone who hasn’t read any of the prior books and is curious, think of this comic as a hybrid between the folklore of Hellboy, the offbeat humor of The Far Side, and the everlasting charm of Calvin and Hobbes. I love Reed Gunther, and I want everyone else to, also. Don’t waste any time: pick up the fourth issue, Reed Gunther in Fish Out of Slaughter, and every issue before it.

P.S. I need to make note of the phenomenal guest pinup illustrated by Brian Remillard. It’s a stunning image that stands in shockingly serious contrast to the fun and airy artwork of Chris Houghton. Remillard is a real talent, himself; check out his website to see more of his work.

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