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Iron West

Posted: Wednesday, May 6, 2009
By: Charles Webb

Doug TenNapel
Doug TenNapel
Image Comics
When prospectors unearth a mirrored artifact in California in the 1800s, it unleashes a self-replicating army of human-hating robots on an Old West town. As these sorts of things go, there’s the reluctant hero who happens to be an unrepentant liar and thief, the saloon girl with a heart of gold who loves him, the bounty hunter who’s out to bring him in dead or alive, the old Native American determined to put him on the right path, and the Sasquatch that is hanging around the margins to act as muscle.

Wait.

Obviously, the creator of Earthworm Jim isn’t out to do a straight version of “robots in the Old West.” Instead, Doug TenNapel opts for a kitchen sink approach with a host of crypto-zoological, mechanical, and extraterrestrial surprises spread out over 160 pages. He throws oddities at both his characters and his readers at such a brisk pace that neither have a chance to consider whether these elements actually make sense--or work. Rapid frequency inadvertently creates acceptability.

As to the story: Our lead is Struck, the aforementioned thief who can’t be bothered to settle down with the saloon girl, Ms. Sharon (I’m euphemistic about her profession because TeNapel dances around whether she’s actually a prostitute). On the run from a trio of bounty hunters, Struck runs afoul of a gang of killer robots who’ve taken to wearing Old West clothing and killing all humans in their path.

Don’t bother too much about their motivation--after all, TenNapel doesn’t. It’s enough that big bad things want to kill, and that Struck will ultimately have to rise to the occasion to save a small town and his beloved Ms. Sharon. Because of the charm of the book, I’m willing to forgive some of TenNapel’s shortcuts in getting Struck where he needs to be emotionally (essentially removing choice from Struck and undercutting his emotional journey).

TenNapel has created an old fashioned story of redemption. However, while the story is old fashioned, the dialogue is not. It’s anachronistic, initially to distraction. It should also be noted that TenNapel is averse to using profanity--which is fine since the book he’s creating isn’t Deadwood. However, in the cases where characters are expressing some things forcefully, it’s obvious that the author was sidestepping potentially rough language.

Where TenNapel delivers is with the art. His characters are clear and vibrant, and his panels move. Some of the later mechanical designs are very impressive (such as the mecha train), and I would love to see some of his sketch and prep work for this title. Thinking about it now, I almost feel like TenNapel the illustrator was the driving force for this particularly story, with ideas for designs and action sequences driving the creation of the narrative.

Again, I have trouble faulting less-than-sturdy methodology when the results are so solid.

If you liked this review, be sure to check out more of the author’s work at Monster In Your Veins



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