The majority of the stories in these first three issues are written by Sean Fahey and Seamus Kevin Fahey, who both spearheaded the anthology, and each delivers the goods on different levels. If I was to break up the issues into larger themes, then issue one deals with some of the more well-known western tropes, such as gunfights, outlaws, tough women, hangings, and rugged frontier life. This lets us settle into a world and character types that we are already relatively familiar with, while Sean and Seamus still make those elements their own. This is a smart move for a first issue, because going into a western anthology book I had certain expectations of what the stories would be like, and subjects they would deal with, and those expectations were met, though more than once with a surprising spin that elevated the story and even went beyond my expectations. Issue two deals more in emotions, and the changes that took place as the Wild West began to become more civilized and democratized. The stories in this issue have a certain amount of bite to them, as many of the characters fight the progress encroaching on their way of life, or find that progress doesn’t always mean the same thing to everyone. The third issue is what I would call the genre issue, as these stories mix different genres with the western genre, and there is a supernatural or otherworldly element that drifts through many of the stories. Issue three is darker in tone, incorporating various horror elements, though the issue does end on a more lighthearted story.
Issue three has the most variety when it comes to writers, and I believe it is the weakest of the three issues, most notably because these bigger genre tropes, for me, sacrifice the personal, more intimate, character-driven stories that make up the two previous issues for flash and bang storytelling. That being said, both of Sean Fahey’s stories were stellar and still delivered on an emotional level. Overall, Sean Fahey was my favorite writer in all three issues, though Seamus Kevin Fahey’s stories in the first issue were also very entertaining and energetic. I got the feeling that Seamus was drawn more to the action of the old west while Sean was drawn more to the emotions. There were two stories by Sean, "The Runt" and "The Great Wall," that completely caught me off guard in their emotional impact, and I connected with them on a deeper level and found myself on the verge of tears at the end of each of them. There is power in Sean’s storytelling and the tenderness with which he relates universal truths that transcends the western genre and genre in general.
The art is all in black-and-white, save for the covers, and the artists run the gamut from highly skilled to maybe just starting out or getting their feet wet, though none of the artwork is bad. I actually applaud Black Jack Press for offering some new to relatively new artists an outlet to showcase their art, because it is only through working on projects such as this that they will increase their talents, learning something new from each experience. Also, it is obvious that no matter the level of skill, all of these artists gave their all to each of their stories. At times, the black and white contrast isn’t utilized as effectively as it could be, and images get lost in slatted shadows or shadows obscure the scene, making it harder than it should be to decipher what is happening in a panel. But, these concerns are few and far between and are very artist-specific, so they do not affect the rest of the stories in the issues.
The art most often appropriately conveys the story and enhances it with strong visuals, and some of these visuals are quite striking and visceral. If you have not heard of many of these artists, it is quite possible you will in the near future, and for different reasons, as some of them are great at capturing over-the-top action, while others relay quiet intensity and up-close facial nuances. Each artist brings their own unique style, and that style complements the story, and if it doesn’t, it is because it is deliberately turning the story on its head, as does John Fortune’s art for "Apologies." Issues two and three also feature a handful of pin-ups and the last pin-up in issue two, by Ramon Salas, in my opinion is worth the price of the book. A few of the artists that especially caught my eye were the aforementioned John Fortune, Borja “Borch” Pena, who brings an elegant beauty to the story "Easy Livin," the active, crackling, and startling art and clever panel construction by Jose Holder in "Abigail," and the powerful feeling of nostalgia that Giannis Milonogiannis gives to the gentle "The Great Wall."
In the end, Tall Tales from the Badlands creates a wonderful, memorable tableau of the hardscrabble, sharp-shooting, tough-jawed old west, while also delving into the emotional and personal intricacies that came with living in that time, all while meeting, exceeding, and surprising expectations of western genre storytelling. While the gunshots may ring in my ears, it is the emotional connections that the characters make and the personal transformations that they undergo that ring in my heart.
The issues may be found at the following links: