Last week, I wrote about the AfterShock comic Join the Future, which I felt was a redundant mashup of the sci-fi and western genres. Whether set in the Old West or the present day, our views towards the western genre nowadays are more post-modern as it’s less about the heroic cowboys than it is aging gunslingers past their prime, as seen in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road and Ed Brubaker’s Pulp.
Having read enough Brubaker – one of the top writers when it comes to crime comics – I can see his influence upon Chris Condon, who makes his Image debut with That Texas Blood. As the aging sheriff of Ambrose County, Texas, Joe Bob Coates questions his effectiveness in his lawful position following a highway confrontation involving a casserole dish and the mysterious death of local rogue Travis Terrill. When Los Angeles-based writer Randy Terrill finds out the news of his brother’s demise, he returns to his abandoned home to find out what really happened.
Going back to Brubaker, I do get the sense from how Condon writes, as well as collaborating with artist frequent Brubaker collaborator Jacob Phillips, That Texas Blood retreads familiar territory. The air of familiarity leads to some of the pitfalls that you see in Brubaker’s work, such as the over-reliance on dialogue and captions, which leads to a lack of suspense during the comic’s “intense” moments.
And yet, despite those issues, Condon knows how to wrote characterization that feels organic, most notably in the old-timer Joe Bob. The first issue is really about a day in Joe Bob’s life before the main storyline commences. Although he is determined to solve this murder case, you can also sense the weariness of this man, who prefers the quiet comfort of being with his wife. His recurring phrase throughout the book is “well”, which sums up Joe Bob completely.
Another character in the spotlight is Randy Terrill, a young man who went through the good and the bad in his relationship with his older and colder brother Travis, both of whom were public menaces towards their hometown. There is an anger that ties into Ambrose County, from past sins to the sudden death of his brother, and Randy unleashes that rage to exact revenge towards a place that is becoming a cesspool for the criminals and the corrupt that Condon is setting up in later issues.
Being his first ongoing series as an artist, Jacob Phillips – son of Criminal’s Sean Phillips – creates this gritty art-style that has defined his father’s work, as well as using primary colors to create the mundanity of the main setting. There is a lived-in quality to the way the characters are presented and even though there are pages where Condon’s dialogue gets overcrowded, Phillips’ wide panels where Randy is the only one within these large, empty spaces speaks volumes about how loneliness plays a part in this comic.
That Texas Blood makes up for a lack of originality with strong characterization and a stunning visualization of small-town Texas.
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