Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #186 by Drew Barth
Westerns have been a staple of comics for almost as long as the medium has existed. From All-Star Western to Weird Western Tales to some of the more modern relaunches and interpretations. And many of them harken back to the idea of the glory days of the west—a time mythologized in film that never actually existed. And while that mythologizing has its negative denotations, there’s also the weirder aspects of the west—the liminality, the unknown, the fearsome critters—that a series like Above Snakes by Sean Lewis, Hayden Sherman, and Hassan Otsmance-Elhaou fully leans into.
And from its first page, Above Snakes is looking at weirder horizons. Told in journal entries and narration by traveling snake oil salesman, Dr. Tomb, we have our main character, Dirt, and his quest for revenge against the titular gang that terrorizes this slice of the desert. But Dirt isn’t alone in his endeavors as he’s continually followed and pestered by Speck, a golden vulture that reminds him of all the good he could do while pointing him in the direction of members of the Above Snakes gang that killed Dirt’s wife. And in this first issue, he’s pointed toward the town of Lazarus and a man named Cobber. Cobber was there when Dorthea died and is currently dragging most of the women in Lazarus to work in his brothel. And then the violence happens.
By chance or province, Dirt is capable. More than capable, even. He enters Lazarus and, even with the Above Snakes being forewarned of his arrival, is able to enter the brothel relatively unscathed and chase Cobber into the streets. But Dirt isn’t the one to kill Cobber. He only facilitates his death by the hands of the women whose daughters have been forced to enter his service. It’s a roundabout revenge for Dirt, but it’s also the kind of revenge that belongs more to these women than it ever did to Dirt. And as a western, our protagonist not being the one to pull the trigger is a bit of a change—while it’s not unheard of, it actually feels more satisfying for the audience to see him not kill Cobber himself. And it’s the kind of thing that should be explored more in westerns. We have piles of media on how revenge doesn’t satisfy the protagonist, but next to none on how they allow someone else to take it in their stead.
As a western, Lewis, Sherman, and Otsmane-Elhaou are giving us interpretations of a genre that’s been mined for ideas for decades are still still finding unearthed gems. And while Above Snakes is the kind of series that looks like it’ll be a revenge-of-the-week kind of thing, it’s still a series that has more than enough established in its first issue to surprise with the second. With five issues planned, it’s likely the kind of series that’ll make a western fan out of anyone.
Get excited. Get blood.
Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida.
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