It’s been two years since the final issue of The Sixth Gun hit stands, with nothing new in the universe from writers Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt since. Luckily, the wait is over as Bunn and Hurtt visit The Sixth Gun universe once again in their new series Shadow Roads, debuting in retail stores this week. Shadow Roads #1 is a solid first entry in the new series bolstered by fantastic dialogue and good characters, hampered by a glossed-over narrative that provides little conflict.
For a series set in the post-American Civil War 19th century, Shadow Roads #1 has some stellar dialogue. When dealing with a western dialect from the 1800s it’s really easy to fall into “yee-haw,” “tarnation,” and “much obliged” type tropes that can leave the dialogue feeling stale and boring. Bunn and Hurtt’s dialogue never comes close to these western cliches throughout this first issue, making every conversation flow like whiskey in a wild west saloon.
Even when jumping back and forth between American west and Londoner styles of speech, Bunn and Hurtt’s dialogue rolls effortlessly along, allowing the reader to become fully immersed within the 19th century context. The English characters speak with mannerisms that had me reading along with an English accent while the word choice and pace of the western characters had me switching to more of a Sam Elliot type sound without even noticing. Bunn and Hurtt do a terrific job creating a sense of what the characters sound like in a medium without audio simply though dialogue.
It helps that the dialogue is being spoken by solid new protagonists too. Readers will meet Ghost Eyes, a weary traveler of the far reaches of the American west who’s haunted by the literal ghosts of the past wherever he goes through his ability to see spirits. Bunn and Hurtt don’t portray this as some sort of power, though. Instead Ghost Eyes comes off more burdened by his ability, making this ability less of a gimmick and more a key facet of his personality, thus giving him more depth as a character.
Then there’s Henry Grey, a man of Native American ancestry struggling to find his place among London’s elite. Henry faces the harsh realities of western treatment of Native populations on nearly every panel of this debut as he struggles to find his identity among his peers. Even though he has the same education and pedigree as them, Henry is ostracized for nothing more than his appearance. This immediately makes him a sympathetic character that readers will be pulling for right away as he struggles to fit in.
Unfortunately, Grey is constantly reminded of his heritage’s perception by his “best-friend” Barry, the weakest of the characters in this new series. Barry may come off as a good natured goofball at times, but his careless depreciation of Native American culture shows just how bad of a friend he is to Henry Grey.
He makes no attempt to help Henry cope with his problems and even seems to make things worse more often than not. This gives Barry room to grow into a more mature, understanding character, but for now I just found him to be a frustratingly bad companion.
A few characters do return from The Sixth Gun who will make fans of the series ecstatic, like Gord Cantrell and Abigail Redmayne. Their introduction is pretty sweet even if you haven’t read The Sixth Gun, but fans will be pretty excited to see these two appear as major players in the coming issues.
As for the story, the reader is left wanting in regards to the conflict at the center of the narrative, especially those unfamiliar with The Sixth Gun‘s lore (like me). New readers will be slightly confused and possibly put off by the lack of context given to the Crossroads and why it stands as the nexus of all creation.
The allure of the Crossroads is completely left in the shadows in this issue, which succeeds in hooking me in for the second issue while also leaving me just a little frustrated. By the end of this issue, there is no conflict presented, no momentum set forth for the characters included. Instead there’s simply a one panel, three sentence explanation of the Crossroads that leaves much to be desired.
Narrative faults and one poor character aside, Shadow Roads #1 is a satisfying launching point for both fans of The Sixth Gun and newcomers alike. The excellent dialogue from genuinely sympathetic and intriguing characters make this a very worthwhile read, even if there is little revealed of the greater narrative.