I love westerns. As a kid, I watched the Lone Ranger and the Cisco Kid and I adored The Wild, Wild West. From Blazing Saddles to Silverado to Free Range, give me a great western and I’m on board. My favorite part is when the gunfighter walks through the swinging doors of the saloon and the piano stops and folks start running. On the other hand, supernatural stories don’t generally flip my lid. I always have trouble following the rules. It seems like someone just waves his hands and stuff happens. It feels a bit mumbo-jumbo to me much of the time although there are certainly exceptions.
So where do I fall with The Sixth Gun (published by Oni Press), which is a comic that I would put in the category of supernatural western? I fall in the category of loving every page of it.
I first jumped into The Sixth Gun when I met creators Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt at Planet Comicon in Kansas City in 2013, so I freely admit being late to the party as The Sixth Gun issue #1 hit the streets in July of 2010. Better late then never.
Brian was doing a commission for me with artist Matt Kindt and we started talking about the book. Before I walked away from the table, I had autographed copies of the first two volumes and by the time I saw them at the con in 2014, I had volumes 3 through 6. Since then, I have also picked up the prequel volume The Sixth Gun: Sons of the Gun. If you haven’t gotten the point yet, I am fully engaged with The Sixth Gun.
So, what is the book about? The book is set in the American west and the title comes from the existence of six magical weapons. These weapons have always existed and have changed forms over time. In the past, perhaps they have been clubs or swords, but in the time that this book is set they are guns. While they have the appearance of six-shooters, they never run out of ammunition. Each gun has magical properties and can only be used by one person until that person’s death. At that time, the first person to pick up the gun is the new owner. Anyone else that tries to use the gun will be burned by it. Each of the guns also possesses or gives its owner special abilities.
- The first gun strikes with the force of a cannon shell.
- The second gun spreads the very flames of Perdition.
- The third gun spreads a flesh-rotting disease.
- The fourth gun allows its owner to call forth the spirits of the men and women that he has killed.
- The fifth gun keeps the owner young and allows them to heal from injuries, as long as they indulge in murder.
- The sixth gun allows its owner to divine the future and certain other abilities as well.
Each gun grants its bearer power, but each one exacts a price as well. I won’t go into that but I will tell that the guns, when combined under certain circumstances, may create the ability to rewrite creation. Could you bring loved ones back to life or be rich and powerful or create Hell on Earth? You can certainly see how an individual might want one or more of the guns to be under their control. In this book, there are numerous such forces vying for these weapons. Some want to use them and some want to prevent their use.
Issue #1 of the book finds the sixth gun coming into the possession of one of our two main protagonists, Becky Montcrief. If you read this book and don’t love Becky then we can’t be friends. Just the way it is. Becky is a relative innocent in this book and while she is smart, strong and brave, she knows little of the world into which she steps when she takes possession of the sixth gun. She doesn’t know, for instance, that its previous owner, the Confederate General Oliander Bedford Hume is, while dead, determined not to stay that way. Oh, he also really wants his gun back.
Our other primary protagonist is Drake Sinclair. Drake has a past with General Hume and his henchmen who have the other guns when the series starts. Drake is a skilled gunman and a killer when he needs to be. He doesn’t want General Hume to have the guns, but we aren’t totally sure of his motivations either. He certainly has plenty of secrets up his well-tailored sleeves. Drake knows some of the magic and legend of the guns and becomes a protector and compatriot of Becky although she pulls his fat out of the fire a few times as well.
Our primaries are occasionally aided by Gord Cantrell, who is a student of the guns; Kirby Hale, whom I would describe as equal parts charmer and thief with perhaps a bit of good in him; and Asher Cobb. Asher is a nine-foot tall prophetic mummy. He shows up in Volume 3 and doesn’t even seem out of place in this book.
Despite everything that I have written, the story is surprisingly easy to follow. The narration has an Old West feel as if we are simply seeing pictures in our mind as we are hearing a scary campfire story. Author Cullen Bunn nails the voice of each character and moves easily between each plot line with perfect pacing. Each character has a rich back story (don’t we all?) which is being meted out a bit at a time but each new revelation totally fits what we have seen so far. To me, this is some of Bunn’s best work — which is saying a lot because he is writing for just about every comic company out there.
Brian Hurtt’s illustrations are a beautiful and perfect visualization of the story. Cowboys and demons and horses and a giant snow wolf and more things than I could ever imagine are rendered in sharp pencils and inks. Pages are laid out in traditional panels of varying sizes but each panel progresses naturally from the one before. The action is clear and easy to follow, something that is frequently absent from some books that I read. Each character has their own facial features and body type — and not just the same figure with a different colored skintight costume wrapping it. These folks are wearing actual clothes, which they even change from time to time, but it makes no difference. Missy Hume and Becky Montcrief could shave their heads and and wear choir robes and I would know them anywhere.
Supporting Brian Hurtt is Bill Crabtree on the coloring duties. The colors in this book really pop off of the page but Crabtree also does a great job with subtle shifts, such as when the lighting angle changes within a scene. Crabtree shines when filling in Hurtt’s fantastic backgrounds that set the story in the old west. Together they make sure that every panel gives you a sense of time and place.
This love letter to The Sixth Gun is already incredibly long and I feel that I haven’t said enough about it but I have to leave some for you to read. Besides the ongoing comic, a five issue mini series called The Sixth Gun: Days of the Dead is set to launch on August 6th. Consider heading over to your local comic book shop and giving The Sixth Gun a shot. It is worth it.