It is a constant mystery that neither Lonnie Nadler and Zachary Thompson are related. The duo of Thompson and Nadler bring a wonderful arthouse sensibility throughout their works at an equivalent craft level of execution of the Safdie brothers’ or Coen brothers’ repertoire. Moreso the Coens in this case, with the way they tackle the Western genre in a way that elevates the two of them to Cormac McCarthy’s equal. It is a rare feat for there to be this blend of intertextuality and Western genre. The closest to this form of storytelling can be found in Nocturnal Animals.
Despite these parallels in other films and books, Undone By Blood stands on its own. The comic provides no fluff by immediately jumping into the depth of the plot and character, rather than follow more generic means of storytelling. It is honestly refreshing for a book to simply get to the point within their first issue, rather than follow the proverbial stories of almost 90% of comic books and just decompress the plot into multiple issues. The plot is a dual meta-narrative, where we follow Ethel Grady Cole (for all you Cormac McCarthy fans, tip your ten-gallon hats) who returns to the site where her family was slaughtered and aims to get her revenge. While she fails, the story has managed to seed in a fantastic critique of this mindset through the second narrative. Here, we follow a novel Ethel has been reading where a cowboy’s child has been stolen. The pointed depth of it serves to show us the subsequent consequences that people must face when they pursue revenge.
The art from Sami Kivelä is a great visual master, who offers some great panel layouts. A standout is Ethel ingratiating herself into a bar, with the panels being layered atop a singular image of her observing. It’s a beautiful image that deserves its own poster at the cinema. To give further credence is that Kivelä is alike in Darius Khondji where he goes into the glamorous and intriguing aesthetics found in most 70s cinema.
With this, the colors by Jason Wordie are imbued by variations of the colors of the era. The flamboyant and gritty aesthetic of the 70s masterfully gets contrasted by the desert washed colors of the novel’s settings. In a wonderful masterstroke, Otsmane-Elhaou manages to break fundamental rules of captions, and the book is better for it. Something as simple as the way lettering bubbles are set to be squared within the novel storyline and regular in the Ethel storyline really ingratiates the meta-narrative aspect of this book. There’s even one word-balloon from Ethel’s memories that manage to properly break up how this story flows.
This story is one of the finest Westerns I’ve read in a long time. Cormac McCarthy fans are going to love this. This series manages to capture the aesthetic and themes of his finest novels and brings powerful visuals equal to Tom Ford and the Coen Brothers. Its only fault is that readers have to wait another month for the next issue. But, patience is a reward with this series. A compelling story, wholly unique and adding greater depth to the comics medium.