‘Black Jack Ketchum #1:’ Comic Book Review

Out on comic book shelves this past week was the first issue of Black Jack Ketchum from Image Comics. From artist Jeremy Saliba comes an engaging cover of a tall, thin man wearing a young Lee Van Cleef Jr. expression from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly with a teenage Annie Oakley type by his side, standing defiant in the middle of a deserted main street right out of the Old West. I was drawn to this series for the weird western aspects after reading the brief synopsis for this four-issue series.

Writer Brian Schirmer and artist Claudia Balboni team up to tell the story about a man, Tom Ketchum, who finds himself mistaken for big-time murderer Black Jack Ketchum. While Tom is no angel – he's a small-time crook – he finds himself with a huge bounty on his head, which tends to plug the ears of any and all opportunists when he tries to explain to them that he isn't Black Jack. And, bounty hunters appear to be the least of his worries.

This story bedrolls western genre tropes with surreal fantasy, making for an intriguing world. In Ketchum's universe, his partner is a fast-talking revolver that evokes the voice of a survivalist, especially when there is a pair of Nazguls wearing matching dusters and ten-gallon hats, riding fast on his trail. There's a mysterious judge wanting Tom's neck dangling from a noose and a mute girl who is deadly with a Winchester rifle – thank goodness she's on Tom's side. It may not seem like there is much progress with the story; however, Schirmer introduces readers to a number of characters and whets the appetite for the rest of the series.

Balboni keeps the layout straightforward, which helps since there are several converging storylines and jumps in the timeline of events. For example, her page in which Tom and the girl run through diagonal windows of four different saloons against a dark blue backdrop of a desolate prairie landscape stands out as clever as well as being visually complementary to the narrative. In addition, Balboni does not bunch up her panels, preferring to incorporate white space as part of the visual experience.

Letterer Rob Bowman keeps the text evenly spaced throughout, so it is easy to read. While each individual in the story has the typical round, white speech bubbles, Bowman employs a fairly consistent hexagonal grey shape for the gun's dialogue, which emulates the shape of the gun's barrel. A nice, subtle touch.

Issue #1 is a good start, providing glimpses into the various story threads that make up this surreal western tale. It will be interesting to see how Tom's story unfolds in the coming issues of Black Jack Ketchum in the coming months.

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