Strangeways: Murder Moon
Written by Matt Maxwell; Illustrated by Luis Guaragña, Gervasio, and Jok
Highway 62; $13.95
Much like its main character, Strangeways has had a long, hard road. Matt Maxwell may not have encountered any werewolves or crooked sheriffs – at least I hope not – in his quest to produce his Western werewolf comic, but I still don’t envy him the headaches.
Strangeways first saw publication as a mini-series for Speakeasy. Sort of. One issue had been released when Speakeasy shut its doors and Maxwell, like all the other Speakeasy creators, had to figure out something different to do with his book. I don’t have any inside information as to why, but for whatever reason Maxwell chose not to pursue publication as a mini-series with another company. Instead, he decided to finish the entire story and publish it himself as a graphic novel. It meant that fans of that first issue had to wait longer to finish the story, but the wait’s over now. Sort of.
I remember being struck at how cinematic that first issue was. I’m often confused when comics creators use the word “cinematic” to describe their work, but it fits Strangeways. Comics and movies are two different animals and one doesn’t feel like the other, regardless of the comparisons the press release writers love to make. Still, there are several things about Strangeways that bring the word to mind.
There’s the easy flow of the story, which takes its time in introducing and developing characters and setting up the werewolf-Western scenario so naturally and believably. There’s the effortless dialogue, which sounds so authentic without ever resorting to cliché Western slang. There’s Guaragña’s impressive use of shadow and remarkable restraint in depicting horror. Guaragña can do detailed work – there are plenty of examples of it in the book – but when it comes time for a werewolf attack or some other violent act, Guaragña goes subtle and lets the imagination do the work. But not before showing you a scary-ass werewolf lurking in the darkness.
There’s also a lot of subtlety to the story. Maxwell doesn’t explain everything. He explains enough, but there’s still a lot to figure out and you get the feeling that there’s more coming. The “Murder Moon” sub-title is probably another hint. That’s why I said the wait is “sort of” over. This was a nice big chunk of story – and it has a satisfying conclusion – but there’s apparently more to come and I couldn’t be happier.
The hero of the tale is a former Union soldier named Seth Collins. He’s on his way out West to reunite with the woman he says used to be his sister. She’s written him a frightened, but accusing letter and against his better judgment he’s come to check up on her. On his way there though, his stagecoach is attacked by a huge, wolf-like creature and only he and one other person survive. When help finally arrives, Collins learns that the wolf-creature has been terrorizing the town of Silver Branch for a while now.
Collins also learns that his sister has up and left town, and while he’s trying to figure out what happened to her, more killings take place and Collins quickly ends up in the middle of something he can’t get out of.
Like I said before, there’s some resolution to the story, but there are plenty of unanswered questions at the end as well. Some of them, like the origin and possible motivations of the wolf-creature, are revealed in a back-up story. It’s a mythic story, more folk tale than horror, and Gervasio and Jok’s cleaner, yet still detailed illustrations are just what it needs. There’s a Jeff Smith/Guy Davis feel to the piece that I loved after the rough darkness of the main story.
But not all questions are answered in this volume. I don’t want to risk spoiling it by saying what they are, but there’s enough left hanging that I’m already eager for a second visit to Maxwell’s chilling vision of the Wild West.