Thursday, October 21, 2010

Chronic Review: The Sixth Gun # 5!

The Sixth Gun # 5
Oni Press

Script: Cullen Bunn
Pencils: Brian Hurtt
24 pages for $3.99

I picked up The Sixth Gun because every time I turn around I see ads for it on CBR with little pull quotes from guys like Matt Fraction telling me this is the best thing since sliced bread. Sliced bread is of course phenomenal, because the alternative is just pulling chunks of bread off the loaf and jamming it into your butter stick. The slices provide a neat, uniform surface to smear your cholesterol onto, and make things like sandwiches possible.

So pretty good, but in the grand scheme of things, not earth's greatest invention, is it? Surely "make up sex" is better, although bread comes up more often. Usually. Honestly, the turn of phrase in the 21st century should probably be "the best thing since the remote control", since that single invention does more to make life bearable than any other. Except maybe toilet paper, which I personally think is tops.

You don't think about it, because it's always been there for you. There was a time when people were jamming pine cones in their bums and smearing their own waste around with pages from the Sears catalog. It makes one shiver, frankly. No, the phrase should really be "the best thing since toilet paper".

So, that begs the question: is The Sixth Gun actually the best thing since toilet paper?

Maybe not, but it's pretty darned good for a comic book. I don't recommend starting with issue # 5 like I did, it's just not a good jumping on point. That's not a knock, mind you, it isn't the fifth issues job to be a good jumping on point. What's really nice about trying to start up with Sixth Gun is that Oni press has Sixth Gun # 1 available online for free in its entirety.

I found that with just a moment or two of digging, and for a moment I was irritated that this information wasn't available inside the actual comic. But it occurred to me that offering a free online issue in the print comic might upset retailers, who may be trying to sell a print version of said comic for $3.99 in their establishment. Conflict of interest. Such are the politics of funnybooks in 2010.

At any rate, here's the basics:

This is Becky Montcrief. She currently wields the sixth and most powerful of a set of guns. She got the gun from her stepfather, and it not only shoots people but also gives Becky access to mystical information, often about the future.

She travels with the very dapper Drake Sinclair, who seems to be interested in the guns as a means of seeking fortune...

....and the not so dapper Billjohn O'Henry. Both of
these men carry one of the six guns as well.

Our heroes are pursued by General Hume, an undead confederate. He's looking to collect all six of the fabled guns to gain access to a mysterious treasure at a former prison known as "The Maw".

No telling what happens then, but it probably isn't any good for anybody.

Cullen Bunn has created a nice little hook with some really clever MacGuffins in the form of those guns. Becky's gun feeds her information as she goes, and it seems to hint that they've been around in one form or another for thousands of years.

Do the weapons themselves have an agenda? Tough to say. They seem to exert a kind of will of their own, and not everybody can use one of these weapons. I'm not privy to all the rules because I jumped in late, but when a guard tries to grab Sinclair's gun, he drops it in agony.

Bunn is creating a little pocket mythos with his own rulebook, which is always good fun in the hands of a craftsman, and this story is handled very well. The key is always in grounding the high concepts in people and their people issues.

Tolkein was able to sell you his sprawling epic I think mainly because it was happening to Hobbits you could relate to. In the Sixth Gun, even undead confederate Generals have problems with girls who are probably too cozy with their Pinkerton bodyguards. True to the classic "Hero's Journey" formula, Becky is in above her head and becomes an unwilling participant in her future growth with the help of some mentors.

In issue five, the sixth gun drags our protagonists straight to the maw, where they discover that there is a vault which requires all of the guns be present to open it. The legend of course is that there is "treasure" beneath, but all Becky can sense is an ancient, palpable evil. And this is what I'm talking about - mixed in with the Lovecraftian element of this antediluvian boogeyman is a very human element. What do you lock up? Stuff that's valuable. So naturally there must be treasure down there. But as Becky posits - if you're one of these guns, what do you suppose treasure means, exactly?

The Sixth Gun is a cut above. I like the concept, and I enjoyed all of Bunn's characters and their dialogue. These mystery/mythos stories work when you can sense a depth to the material, and the conductor can sell you on the idea that they know where the train is headed and have the skill to get you there. Sixth gun has such depth and such a conductor.

I'm not in love with the $3.99 price point, but I give some leeway to independent titles, who often need the extra juice just to survive. This is something I'll be grabbing in TPB form. I think I could safely recommend Sixth Gun to just about anybody, but if you've been pining for that old "Riders of the Worm and Such" type weird western, you need to run out and grab this yesterday.

- Ryan

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