In anticipation of this Wednesday's Review Group, Lee offers up daily reviews of the original Billy the Kid Mini-Series. Here we find that the beginning is a very good place to start.
Credits & Solicit Info:
Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities #1
Writer: Eric Powell
Penciller: Kyle Hotz
Colorist: Eric Powell
Editor: Matt Dryer
Designer: Amy Arendts
Cover Artist: Eric Powell
Genre: Humor, Horror, Action/Adventure
Billy the Kid having faked his own death is now free to roam America, and start a new life, unhindered by his past crimes and criminal record. Free, that is, until someone discovers his true identity. Fineas Spoule and his band of traveling sideshow performers blackmail the Kid into joining their troupe. These performers are the rarest breed of human oddities and deforms: an alligator man, a dog-face boy, a wild man, a miniature boy, a psychic, a tatooed woman, and Sproule, himself, also known as "The Human Spider." Billy begrudgingly agrees. Spoule, on top of everything else, is something of a treasure hunter. He and his band are set to travel to Europe to steal a priceless artifact from a mysterious scientist, a Dr. Victor Frankensteain; with Billy as their hired gun.
Billy the Kid's Old-Timey Oddities is written by Eric Powell (writer/artist of the International Horror Guild award-winner and 2003 Eisner Award-winner, The Goon) and illustrated by Kyle Hotz (fan favorite artist ofThe Agency and The Hood). This series combines Hotz's quirky macabre visuals and Powell's humorous fast-paced storytelling into an off-beat epic adventure full of interesting characters combining the unlikely genres of spaghetti western and Hammer horror.
Publication Date: April 20, 2005
Format: FC, 32pg, 1 (of 4)
UPC: 7 61568 10373 1
Eric Powell is no stranger to mixing up his genres. The Goon is a mob buddy cop zombie piece that has even gone the way of heartwarming sports story in its publishing history. So, it shouldn't seem a surprise when he takes on the Wild West, Carnival Freaks and Literary Horror all in the same book.
Billy The Kid's Old Timey Oddities starts out with a mock newspaper report on the death of one William Henry McCarty's death at the hands of one Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881. Like a Victorian paper, it quickly accounts the notoriety of the outlaw and the events that precipitated his death stating in April of that same year.
Like Young Guns before it, Powell's book is based on the idea that the man sometimes known as Bonney was not killed, but lived on in obscurity. Powell gives us a tale just a smidgeon more fantastic than the one portrayed by Emilio Estevez on screen.
The story starts out with Billy remembering some mysterious punishment in a nightmare. When he awakes, he is approached by Fenias Spoule. The proprietor of a Jim Rose Circus like travelling freak show named Spoule's Biological Curiosities has an offer of employment for Mr. The Kid. We are then told about the nature of the job and introduced to the various freaks employed by Mr. Spoule.
The genius in Powell's writing is twofold. First and foremost, he tells a gripping story while merging all those more standard stories into a new and interesting amalgam. If it was all style and angle, it wouldn't work, but backing it with substance in his solid world creation – the reader is treated with no less than three character origins here (and that even discounts the newspaper story which could be viewed as one of a sort). That's a lot of value for your buck. The fact that it is fun, inventive and handled in an intelligent manner is only icing on an already awesome cake.
Next, is his sense of humor. Sure, the Goon can devolve to toilet humor what with Frankie's juvenile gangster thug mentality or the absurdness of a story like Satan's Sodomy baby. It's easy to see why this might even turn some readers off of what is otherwise an incredible read. Here, the laughs come just as plentiful but without the slapstick or fart jokes. Some of it is done with a keen irony. Billy is just as superstitious as the stories he refuses to believe. Some of it is done with Billy's unbridled rudeness; he just doesn't have any manners. Most of the time, he is the punch line to the joke.
In fact, in many ways, Billy is second fiddle in this book. His name might be on the cover, but it would seem that the fictional nod to PT Barnum is the one in charge here and holds the meat of the story as a result. Tales of Gollums, magical hoodoo and harpooning whales seem to make up the majority of the book and that is hardly a bank robber's stock in trade.
Hotz is a very different artist from Powell and that is probably why he is a better fit for this kind of book. Wearing so many influences, Hotz takes and molds them to his bending. There are pages that could have come straight from a Mignola work, while the Tattooed woman looks like a Kelly Jones creation. Throw in a little Wrightson and Keith and probably some stuff this eye is missing and you have a book that is dynamic in its art.
The artist is also skilled in detail when necessary while also maintaining minimalist approach. When you first see the train, you are treated to what one would expect in a Sergio Argones rendition of the opening sequences featuring Owen Wilson in Shanghai Noon. However, once the art shifts to the characters, the background almost disappears. This allows the people to seem more real and alive. The interior locations become things. While, outside you are given lush detail in every panel creating another character in the piece and offsetting the rest of the book. There is also masterful use of light and a strong narrative flow to the art.
This is a fun and wild book which befits the fact that it is populated with fun and wild characters that are presented by fun and wild creators.
Review by: Lee Newman