Author: Doug TenNapel; illustrated by author
Published: Image Comic (2006)
Doug TenNapel's sci-fi western turned out to be a bit of a gem. This is my first sampling of his work, but I have a suspicion that if I found more of it I would enjoy it just as much, if not more.
The book is rendered in black and white, and the art style felt reminiscent of something you might see in a Gorillaz music video. The characters are very stylized with a blocky cartoonish quality, yet each character appearing immediately has its own identity as soon as you see them. And given the vast array of characters that appear in this lightening-paced tale, you can't help but appreciate TenNapel's imagination.
The story begins in the Californian gold rush, as a couple of prospectors unwittingly and unfortunately discover an uprising of mechanical men, resurrected and out to destroy humanity. The hero of the tale is an anti-hero in fact. Actually, he's a bit beyond anti-hero. Preston Struck is a bona fide coward and cheat.
After fleeing the law from town, he's rounded up and taken via train back to town. But before they get back, the train is hijacked and everyone killed by a posse of cowboy robots. The town and everyone in it, including the whore Preston has a soft spot for, are endangered as the mechanical mob descends upon the town in one of the craziest shoot-outs one can imagine. Even though Preston tries countless times to shirk his duties and his morality, he keeps getting pulled back into the fray, aided by the grizzled sheriff, the lovable prostitute, a native Shaman and his Sasquatch companion.
Sound a little crazy? Well, that ain't the half of it, and I won't spoil it for you in case you feel like reading it for yourself. I will say this, though. The story felt rushed. The pace of the story has everything happening with such a furious pace, I didn't get a very good feel for any of the characters beyond Preston Struck. Everyone and everything else kind of felt like they were being kept at arm's length. For me, the story went by too quickly, and within one sitting with the book I was finished and half-wondered if I'd skipped pages.
The pages that are there are great, with the appealing artwork I alluded to earlier, along with snappy dialogue and some highly imaginative action sequences. While the story left me wanting more in the pejorative sense, it also left me wanting to read more of Doug TenNapel's work in the panegyric sense.
And hey, it may not be "steampunk" in the strictest technical way, I think fans of the sub-genre should consider this. Heck, I caught wind of this book in the first place through a blog entry about steampunk.