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Review Group - Billy the Kid #1

Written by John Martin on Monday, September 20 2010 and posted in Reviews

Jude Terror had the pick for new comics shipping September 9th and under the influence of Victorian Squid mind bullets he selected Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Ghastly Fiend of London #1 by Eric Powell and Kyle Hotz.

banner_OHredThe Review Group is a collection of posters who get together and review a new comic each week. Our threads can be found in The Outhouse's News Stand forum and is open for anyone and everyone to participate.

It's been a loooooooong time since a majority of the Review Group has liked something.  The Eric Powell fans among us were hopefull that Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Ghastly Fiend of London could be the book to bring us all back together.  Was it successful?

0909-btk_coverReview by Stephen Day

I loved this issue. Smile

The the writing is strong and the artwork matches the tone the writing creates perfectly. I loved the scene with the Elephant Man in particular. Billy the Kid is a jerk, but its fun to watch him act in ways and say things that are so outrageous. He's as much of a freak as the allies he works with.

8 out of 10

Review by Royal Nonesuch

First off, I didn't actually read the earlier series. Somehow, I didn't even know about it until recently, when I read a Fourthy review or something.

Anyway, I jumped into this one, and though I felt like I missed something (ie the establishment of this world), I was able to catch up, and would now like to go back and read the first series.

This story uses the Whitechapel murders as its jumping point, and also incorporates the speculative notion that Jack the Ripper was actually Joseph Merrick, aka The Elephant Man of London (who, unlike the Joseph Merrick of this story, didn't actually resemble an elephant. He referred to himself by that moniker because he thought this deformity was caused by a nightmare his mother had while she was pregnant with him, wherein she was trampled by elephants). If you look around long enough on the internet, you'll find some subgroup of theorists who subscribe to the idea.

This first issue is a really fun comic. The Billy the Kid character is a riot, and everyone else is fleshed out pretty quickly for those who missed out on their introduction in the first series (I'm assuming). The dialogue and pacing really crackle, and the always reliable Kyle Hotz does some stellar work here.

This is a great issue all around.

10.0 (we're starting this off big-style!)

Review by thefourthman

Whitechapel is and always will be an area of fascination for the world. To this day Sleuths from around the world want to establish a name for themselves by figuring out one of the great mysteries. Who or what was Jack the Ripper. Some combination of the ultimate cold case, the brutalities of murders, and the romance of the Victorian era, especially with the Spring Heel Jack to add to the mythos, has made it rest on our minds over a century later.

It has consumed the likes of Alan Moore and the Hughes brothers and now, Eric Powell, that comedian of the grotesque takes it on. What better way than through a tale of Billy The Kid and his band of Old Timey Oddities.

Spoule mentioned a friend in England at the end of the last volume, turns out that friend was the Elephantman (taken to an absurdist extreme by Hotz). This allows the reader the chance to see Mr. The Kid's crudeness in all its glory (well until he starts alley crawling later). Seems he hasn't changed much. He still talks faster than he can think and doesn't ever reflect on the words he speaks. You almost have to wonder why Spoule puts up with him.

Seems there is a network of the oddities in the world and Spoule's friend has called our heroes in because the local freaks are being systematically hunt down as suspects for being the Ripper.

Never mind the Spring Heel or the fact that America's first serial killer is in town, things get bad when Billy gets slipped something and witnesses a murder!

Powell continues the adventures of this group as if he wrote the last issue of the first volume yesterday. Everything feels the same and if anything, the nifty mileau has upped the greatness of his writing.

Hotz doesn't slouch either. Brown's colors are more nuanced than Powell's were in the first series. It gives the art a pop and actually creates a more eerie feel. The star of the art is the eyes though. The art team creates real emotion and depth through the eyes. They are almost real in their look, shimmering in the light, water welling in them. It is an effect that stands out in a field of exceptional artwork.

A return to form, eerie and funny, god it's good to have the bandit and his friends back in town!

Knowing that costing one penny shy of four hundred is a lot to ask, Powell throws in a Goon strip. In the first part of the story we see our mob boss and his buddy grilling out and taking it easy, that is until a slack jaw eats all their wieners and the Goon reluctantly steps into action. I hope that after this mini is done it means more of one of my favorite books!

score 10/10

Review by starlord

Very reminiscent of League of Extra ordinary gentle people or whatever that thing by Morisson was. Great writing and and wonderful characterization here but not thrilled on the art. Not really my style. Billy was really fun to read though. We need more books like these. This is a brand new one I will put on my list to buy when it comes out in trade.

Story: 8
Art: 6
My Score: 7.5

Review by Blue Streak

One of the joys of "indie" comics is that there's more freedom to do just about anything you want, so long as it's not with licensed characters. It's in the realm of independent comics where you can have a story featuring the infamous Billy the Kid and a pack of misfits travel to London to search for the infamous prostitute murderer known as Jack the Ripper. Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Ghastly Fiend of London #1 is a fun, almost whimsical take on the murders that rocked London during the late 19th century.

Written by the Goon's Eric Powell and illustrated by Kyle Hotz, Billy the Kid is an enjoyable read from cover to cover. Using the murder investigation as a commentary on the persecution of the malformed and physically disable, Powell springs into action. The first issue quickly sets up the conflict and the cast efficiently. Powell'ss protagonist, the infamous Billy the Kid, is as as likable of a miscreant as they come. He's rude and lecherous with just a glimmer of good flickering deep inside. Powell's crafted a well-developed character and excellently characterized him in only 18 pages. Acting as a foil is Fineas Sproule, the leader of a band of circus misfits and Billy's employer. The two make for an interesting odd couple, bickering at each other throughout the scant 18 pages of the story. My only complaint is the page count. 18 pages, plus a 4 page Goon backup (which honestly did nothing to convince me to read more Goon), doesn't really do it for me when I'm paying $4 for an issue. While I enjoyed the story, it certainly wasn't ground-breaking or captivating enough to pay an additional $12 for the 54 more pages of story.

The art by Kyle Hotz is serviceable but not fantastic. Some pages were strong, while others, especially the ones with the most panels were disappointingly weak. I feel like the story would have been better served with Powell's art, but that would probably be a lot to as for without taking away from Goon.

Overall, this is a good comic but not good enough to justify reading monthly. I'll wait for the trade and enjoy the rest of the story later.

Story: 8
Art: 6
Overall: 7

Review by Punchy

Story - I've never really been a big fan of the work of Eric Powell, The Goon, while well-drawn, is only sporadically appealing to me on the writing side, and his work on Action Comics was paired not only with a below-par Geoff Johns, but also one of my least favourite concepts in comics, Bizarro. But again, the art was top-notch. All of this made me wary of this book, as it's Powell writing but not drawing, and the results were the same as The Goon, sporadically appealing, but overall underwhelming.

I think a lot of my antipathy towards this issue is due to not having read the first mini-series, and Powell not really attempting to bring new readers up to speed. I know I should expect that some things aren't explained, but by all accounts it's been quite a few years since the first series, and Powell doesn't explain a thing, not even a text recap. I have no idea why Billy The Kid is in London, why he's teamed up with a bunch of Circus Freaks, or who these Freaks actually are. Two of them don't even look like Freaks at all! As I said, part of this problem is me, but Powell doesn't even do his job in trying to entice me to go back and get the first trade. If they want to more of this concept, they need to do better at this. It all just seems like random, childish storytelling, hey let's throw these famous historical figures together, like League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, with the intelligence replaced by bawdy jokes.

But as I said, this was sporadically entertaining, mainly due to the inclusion of the Jack The Ripper mythos, something I am very interested in. In comics, any Ripperology will inevitable be compared to From Hell, and this even moreso, due to the use of the Elephant Man. This isn't of course as good as From Hell, but it's not really trying to be, this is just a fun romp, with very little depth, and that's fine. It's just something that doesn't appeal to me, and the problems with a lack of explanation only compound this. If you've read the first mini, then I'm sure this is great stuff, a welcome return, but if you're in the majority who haven't, then Powell has failed to really provide a hook to carry on and go back. Disappointing.

This issue also contains a Goon back-up story, and it's a serviceable gag-story, with of course nice art.

Artwork - Kyle Hotz is an artist I'm most familiar with from his work on Marvel MAX's The Hood, and he's a good fit for this book. His Elephant Man is a thing of disgusting beauty, and the way he draws Billy The Kid's face is good for the comedic elements of the story. A good artist, but I think Powell himself would have elevated the story, his Goon back-up is very basic story-wise, but art-wise? It's excellent.

Best Line - 'I'll give your little Gentleman a jolly good tossle and a slide down the gullet before, mind ye!'


Review by BlueStreak

There comes a comic once a generation that redefines the medium. Without a doubt, that comic is Thor: The Mighty Avenger #3. Plot and art are merged together in a spectacular array of sequential panels, moving from left to right in resplendent harmony. Thor: The Mighty Avenger #3  is more than a comic, it's a bold concept meant to be emulated in real life. Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee should be awarded Presidential Medals of Honor for contributing something so pure and wonderful into the world. These are our generation's Picassos whose art has distributed to the masses in twenty two page pamphlets of sheer awesomeness.

Hang on to these copies for future generations. In fifty years, your copy of Thor: The Mighty Avenger #3 will be worshiped as the holy book of a new religion, a religion built upon the principles of hope, love, and Asgardian hobos.


Review by nerdygirl

I picked this up on the recommendation of fourthy, and it's the first title he's specifically suggested to me that I did not enjoy.

As a new reader I found it highly inaccessible. It doesn't cleanly convey their motivations for traveling together -- (ie why is Billy the Kid is a freakshow?) and it was tough to get any sense of the individual characters. Given I'm not someone with a familiarity with freaks of the 19th century, it was tough to piece it together. Sloppy writing on Powell's part.

Just like the characters, the art was equally muddy. There is such a thing as using color to create a mood, but the palette here is just flat. There needs to be some elements which "pop," but colorist Dan Brown can't seem to get enough of his own namesake. The overwhelming use of browns and greys just washes the characters into the background of the world, causing the art to lose focus.

Like the color work, Kyle Hotz's page layouts seem meandering. While his actual in panel artwork is competent, he plays with his panel edges and gutters without any real concept of what he's doing. A great example of his inconsistency is on pages 13 and 14. When Billy is drugged, he significantly widens his gutter around the panels giving you a sense of something is amiss, yet on page 14 his third panel lacks a similar effect and leave me wondering why he bothered with wide gutters on page 13.

When I'm thinking "why the fuck did the artist do that?", it's pretty clear the comic is not working for me.

If I were looking for a shining example of what comics should be, this issue fails dismally. I don't share the love you all seem to have for it.


Review by The Phenomenal Sire

I had type up a review on my phone and something went wrong and I lost it. So basically I agree a lot with nerdy's review.

I am not going to do background research for a review group pick, I should get all I need from the issues ewspewcially if its #1 and it doesn't tell me anything came before. It was an interesting story, but this time period doesn't appeal to me. The Victorian periods X-Men is how I see this.

Overall - 6

Review by Victorian Squid

No time for a real review, maybe I'll plug it in later. It would just be praising the book though, and everyone already knows I liked it.



Review by SilverPhoenix

Billy the Kid, Late 1880's London, Freaks, and a Crime Unsolved. What do you get when you mix these elements together? Something that's quite satisfying!

Billy the Kid is one of the many names that have helped to define an era, which has become much a part of American History, as it is a part of American Folklore in the Wild West. In fact, he has not just become a name; he has become one of the era's most famous icons, as his exploits have become the stuff of legend. Loved by some, hated by others, compelling to all, Billy the Kid's story, face, personality and iconography have become interwoven into our entertainment mediums in various places. It was only a matter of time before he would become the star of his Comic Book (Graphic Novel in collected form, and for those who wish to call it that) series, to which the title in question is the sequel to the first one.

As for the comic book series itself, it asks the question as to what would happen to Billy the Kid, had he survived past his "untimely" death in 1881, and what kind of Adventures he would get himself into? Well, enter the Whitechapel Murders, which were caused by another infamous icon of history known as "Jack the Ripper."The legacy of this event would be wide-reaching, as it would cause a lot of social upheaval, and would spell the beginning of the end of the 19th Century Ghettos of the City of London. It would also become great story fodder, as the events of the nearly 2 year long saga would also be explored in just as many mediums of entertainment, as well.

With two folklore legends being put in the same scenario, what would be the result? A pretense for a Comic Book/Folklore Battle, the likes which no one has even seen, or something else altogether. Well, the result is definitely something else altogether (for now, at least), however, this doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, what we get is extremely good, and one of the most polished First Issues of the year.

The story itself puts Billy and his companions' right in the thick of the Whitechapel murders, as Fineas goes to visit one of his friends, who is not just confined to a room in the hospital, but has a condition that would put him in a class of people that would become the persecuted in response to the paranoia that Jack the Ripper brings. In fact, the story is flawlessly able to interweave the fears and paranoia of the populace to the dangerous position that the "Freaks" are now in. It puts Billy and his companions in the position of racing not only against time, but the burning flames of paranoia that could consume not only their friend, but the entire London freak community. If the situation itself, wasn't compelling enough, this is only bolstered by great dialogue, excellent characterization for Billy, and a great chance for some good character development. An almost perfect display of how an unrealistic and almost preposterous storyline, doesn't have to be inheritably stupid.

Also, any and all praises for this book (and the creative team), will not be given its proper justice, without praises for the art. Kyle Hotz doesn't let Eric Powell (the writer) show him up as he carries his share of the load admirably. With his illustrations he sets up a world that is very much late Victorian in style. There are no problems catching the emotions and actions of the character, as each panel brings these characters to life in varied ways. In addition, his use of colors (the black and white flashback, was excellently done, even with its borrowed images) only enhances the visual side of what we're seeing unfold. All in all it adds to a world that is not only great to look at, but beautiful in the visual imperfections that we see in each character.

As far as flaws go, the only one that even stands out (and not in a way that ruins the package), is the fact that we're dropped in the middle of an ongoing storyline (at least with Billy and his companions), which means that we see characters that new readers are not going to be familiar with, and aren't as significant as of yet. Some might even ask, as to why Billy is traveling with Fineas. However, even with that small wrinkle, you're still getting one of the best books of the week, and one that shouldn't be missed by those who are looking for something different to read. Billy's incursion in the WhiteChapel section of London is not just a winner, but quite a big one at that.

The Verdict

Story: ****1/4 (8.5): Billy the Kid and Jack the Ripper is almost something out of fanfiction. However, the writing makes the story work, and the storyline situation is majestically woven into the fabric of the book.

Art: ****1/2 (9): This is really excellent stuff, folks. You're being transported into a world of darkness, destitution, and danger. And it's a marvel to look at.

Accessibility: **** (8): Despite the questions, the book is still not hard to pick up in any sense of the word. From the first panel to the last words, most everything you need to follow what's going on is right in the book.

Final Judgment: ****1/4 (8.5)

Review by John Snow

Even having read all of the Goon trades, I was somehow unaware of the previous Billy the Kid series until it came up last week as a potential Review Group pick. As a result I went into this comic not really knowing what to expect with the exception of Eric Powell's quirky sense of humor.

Initially I felt like I was playing catch up. I didn't know the characters or any of the setup, but eventually somewhere in the Elephant Man scene I just went with it and had a very fun reading experience as a result. It doesn't really matter how the characters got together it just matters that they are together and who doesn't love a good Jack the Ripper story? I found Billy just the right amount of asshole to still be endearing and I thoroughly enjoyed the old timey quirkiness of the oddities.

I've liked Kyle Hotz going all the way back to his Evil Ernie days, but I have to say this is the best his stuff has ever looked. Solid storytelling and wonderful character design.

The Goon backup was pure delight and had me laughing out loud with virtually every panel.

Story: 7
Art: 10
Backup: 10
Overall: 9

Review by GHERU

I have been trying for years to understand what people see in Eric Powell's work. From sporadic issues of The Goon - including SSB - and Chimichanga I feel that I have given his work more than its fair chance and I just don't get it. Billy The Kid's OTO&TGFL is no different, besides chuckling once at Billy overly direct nature in regards to Joseph and the added detail of the prostitute urinating in the alley, I found this book incredibly boring.

I do not mind the lack of a back story; "Billy The Kid is in London with a freak show" was, surprisingly, enough for me to to accept this universe's reality. What bothered me was Billy's predictable personality and attitude towards every other character, its as if there are 3 cowboy templates and Powell chose the "douchey one who thinks he's clever".

I do like this different take on the Jack The Ripper myth (myth?), Ihave read enough mystical, magical, alien, JTR stories to last the rest of my life, but for some reason the "they seemed to overlook that an innocent man was killed" line seemed to be trying to hard to shoe horn this story into a "race" parable.

All that being said, Hotz's strong suit has always, IMO, been to make the art fit the intended tone of his books, and he succeeded again in this book. All at once I felt the dark and dank of 19th century London, the love and care Sproule feels for his freaks, and the fish out of water aura seeping out of Billy.

All-in-all, I guess I see why people would like this book, but it is not for me

story - 5.5
art - 8
overall - 6.75

Review by Eli Katz

This book is nuts. It does what comic books do best: combines a bunch of unlikely genres into one impossible story and just lets everything run wild in all directions. You don't find this kind of storytelling in books or TV, and it is rarely done in film (and when it is, the movie is often a mess). Somehow, even though it is constantly teetering on madness, BILLY THE KID'S OLD TIMEY ODDITIES #1 works.

Everything is wonderfully over the top, including the illustrations. I love the depiction of Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. He's not simply deformed and sickly. He's a Hulk-sized freak, with elephant-like features, including trunk and tusk. Is this in bad taste? You bet it is. But it's also wickedly imaginative and memorable. Comics should be filled with unforgettable images. And the one of Merrick will stay with me for a long time.
Great read!

ART: 9

That gives Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities and the Ghastly Fiend of London #1 a group score of 7.79.  Yay, the drought is over!  BtK is our highest scoring book in 20 weeks! (So what if it didn't get over an 8, I'm calling it Group approved anyway.)

For what McKegan calls "all the geeky, bitchy arguing about comics you'd expect from a comic message board condensed into absolute awesomeness", check out this week's thread and post your own review in The News Stand forum.

While our Steve Rogers: Super Soldier #3 week is well underway, GLX has the pick for next week and he has selected Nemesis #3  published by ICON/Marvel Comics.  Look for the new thread in The News Stand forum on Wednesday morning.

0922-nemesis_coverNemesis #3

WRITER: Mark Millar
PENCILS: Steve McNiven

Don't worry, everyone. Nemesis has been captured and put in the highest security prison that America has to offer. Problem solved. Series over. What's that? It's only issue three? Uh-Oh! More shocking twists and turns from the masters of modern comic-book awesomeness Mark Millar (KICKASS, CIVIL WAR) and Steve McNiven (WOLVERINE: OLD MAN LOGAN, CIVIL WAR). Mature Content  $2.99

Written or Contributed by: John Martin

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