Champions of The Wild Weird West
Written and Created by Michael David Nelson and Erik Hendrix
Artwork and Color by George Kambadais
Lettering by Erik Hendrix and Amanda Hendrix
Edited by Amanda Hendrix
Cover Price $14.95
It’s tricky pulling off a team story. Does every character get equal time to shine, like in The Avengers? Is it actually a story about a team or is that a smokescreen and it’s really about a single protagonist who learns to be a part of a team, like every single 3 Musketeers/D’Artagnan movie I’ve ever seen? Champions of The Wild Weird West features an old western posse of seven distinct, interesting characters – just about any of whom could lead in a compelling series on their own – in a story pitting them against an equally varied mish-mash of foes with art that I’ll gush over below because I really, really dig it. It’s unfortunate that I didn’t quite enjoy the story itself, but like I said, team stories are tricky.
The five-issue mini-series from Arcana opens with a saloon fight between a samurai and bounty hunters. Let that last part sink in for a second. It’s a kick-ass action sequence that quickly proclaims this book to be a Sergio Leone-esque spaghetti western by way of Samurai Jack. The whole first third of the book involves train robberies, zombies, introducing the squad of odd-balls, and generally topping absurdity upon absurdity. Bandits accidentally let loose a plague of the living dead on a train going over a Native American burial ground infecting both the passengers and the corpses below. The Samurai Taro, the dashing and well to do adventurer New York Jack and his posse, Polikwaptaqwast, a young Native American shaman, and a masked supernatural figure named The Grey Gun converge at the scene with their own missions in mind. The newly formed Champions forge an alliance against the well to-do villains they quickly deduce were behind the attack.
After that the story proceeds to lose steam as the writing attempts to chew all that its bitten off. A number of baddies come off in spots as generic and half-baked. The Champions similarly suffer, New York Jack loses his fiancee during the initial skirmish, though while that becomes a major driving force for the rest of his journey it feels largely told and not shown. Unfortunately Jack also takes up much of the spotlight, leaving us with only the broadest sketch for the rest of the crew. While the plot moves faster then things can sink in, there doesn’t feel like there’s much room to make a connection with anyone on any level other then what mechanical benefit they offer the story. I felt I learned very little about Jack’s own posse, for instance, which featured a Native American raised in white society, an alcoholic preacher, and a confederate soldier turned gun-for-hire. Interesting set up, but what’s beyond that? There’s a very good effort to flesh out Taro, the samurai but I still never bought that he’d be swept up with the rest of the team to the extent that he was. And, as a quick aside, I didn’t quite get why the two major Native American characters were drawn and colored to look white, but that’s about the only negative thing I can bring myself to say about the art because…
I’m head over heels for George Kambadais artwork and coloring. The cover does not do the over-all book justice. In the tradition of guys like Bruce Timm and Mike Avon Oeming, this work manages to be self-consciously cartoonish, and also commands itself and the reader to take it seriously. Kambadais characters have all the goofy, fun line choices of a great Hanna-Barbera design. Meanwhile, his backgrounds are given a luscious, Chuck Jones-esque painterly quality, often ditching black lines altogether and relying on only highly saturated colors cut into shapes that suggest desert backdrops or haunted houses. And he’s not afraid to splash a particular color over a page for effect, but knows not to lean on that for every single moment. Yeah, man, finding talent like this is one of those times it feels great to be into comics.