The night of the Thanksgiving meal and party, held in the Genial Hotel in Shannonsburg, arrived. Each of the members of the posse had dressed up all nice, even Big John scrubbing some of the scent of the grave off his carcass.
They greeted those invited guests that could make it:
Dillinger and Pennington-Smythe of the Explorers' Society, out and about and looking for a new western headquarters.
Timothy the scientist from Felicity Peak, along with a pair of Russian serfs from same isle; one of those latter two was a convert won around by Holly's preaching, at the party to mourn her death.
Dr Pond and Professor o'Leary from Elspethtown, delighted to be in society for a time.
The Sheltons, again happy but ranging in opinion as regards the posse, from Clara wearing Cal's dress to Mara shunning Renard. Cattlegirl Jill (and Steve!) was accompanying them, wearing a suit much smarter than Cattleman Bill's.
Mr Blumquist, chuffed at a free meal.
Jim the gunhand, a happily married man with a small farm, catching up with his old buddy Charlie.
Lacy o'Malley, immaculate as ever in his white suit and bringing his camera to record events.
Colonel Jeffries, host for the site.
There was much catching up over dinner, and new connections between acquaintances. Big John was called over to the kitchen during the meal, and confronted by a pair of decrepit forms in Confederate uniforms, a Sergeant Sean Slade and unnamed private. Even this, and their continued assertions, failed to convince him that he was of the walking dead himself. They told him of the 'shoot it or recruit it' policy of the Texas Rangers, and that they'd be in town for only one day to determine either his worth or his threat to the CSA.
John kept it quiet as he returned to the party, but as the dancing started in the ballroom he was all too eager to continue his shit-stirring efforts by further poisoning Mara Shelton against Renard. This had the unintended side-effect of having her fall for him, each consoling the other over the grief of their lost loves (Garrett and Holly, if you remember!)
Cal and Renard danced with their partners, but Bill found himself being led by Jill, although she did sheepishly let slip that she had been impressed with his song last time they had met. He promptly took to the stage.
As he led the band, Bill noticed spectral, skeletal forms manifest amongst the dancers. They too danced in finery, yet without interacting with the living.
The others, made aware of this, began to shepherd those less combat capable into the bar room, but then there was a crash as several Confederate soldiers - those stationed to guard the festivities - walked cleanly through the plate glass windows and began opening fire as the colonel screamed and freaked out.
No one was hit, but the ghosts ran away, and the soldiers, wounded heavily, dragged themselves to the solid opposite wall before collapsing. When interrogated they had no memory of events.
The colonel recovered his composure and shrugged off all questions thrown his way, storming off to 'restore order'. The local sheriff arrived to arrest the 'mutineers'. Yet the posse knew that something altogether more sinister was responsible for these possessions...
The posse set to barricading the New Flesh in the cellar while they started a fire, and then began pushing bookcases up to the front door as well when they saw the two injured patchwork men still lumbering toward them. Two monsters were beating at the front of the building while a familiar voice called out from deep below.
They fled upstairs and jumped from a window in Petersen's office just as the patchworks broke in and discovered first hand 'fire bad'. The building collapsed on the abominations, and the posse had some time to recover, calming down the nurses who had barricaded themselves in the asylum proper.
Cattleman Bill spotted some riders approaching: uniformed Mexicans escorting prisoners. The posse prepared a welcome, and when the Mexican soldiers claimed to be there to meet with Petersen and drop off some more patients, a quick firefight erupted.
The three'patients' turned out to be noble Mexican revolutionaries (a couple even recognised famed exile Renard), and the posse turned them free while throwing the soldiers into the pyre they'd made of the hospital's administration building. The kept their horses, and found a tidy sum of several hundred Confederate dollars in one of the saddlebags, along with a cannister plastered with warning signs in Spanish. Elworthy caefully examined it, but could determine no more than that it was decidedly poisonous and numbing. Curious, indeed.
The nurses confirmed that the Mexicans sent regular shipments of patients to the asylum, but they'd all reasoned that that was just a case of receiving better medical attention north of the border. The posse decided to leave them in charge of the facility after discovering that all the patients, regardless of their original mental state, had certainly been driven mad by Petersen's treatments. Many of them were familiar to Renard as outspoken opponents of the current Mexican regime...
Taking the cannister and cash, the posse headed back to report to Hellman and o'Malley. They explained to the former the fate of his agents, but left out mention of the cannister. The reporter, they told all about the horror they had encountered.
Then they returned to Shannonsburg, and Colonel Jeffries received a full report. He took the money and substance into his care, thanking the posse and worried about the implications of Mexican soldiers in California. Of course, that was for a future time. There were only a few days to prepare for the big Thanksgiving party!
Big John was still too torn up to accompany the posse to the asylum of Doctor Sanderson Petersen, and so the group that headed off to the cliff-top facility consisted of Cal, Renard, Bill, Trent and Journey (the last there, being a medical professional, was to add an air of authenticity to their request to get inside).
The nurses calmly allowed them into the shining clean building, filled with screams and laughter. Doctor Petersen and a pair of orderlies came to meet them personally when the posse asked to see the two missing agents, and between bad jokes and explaining his terror therapy (terror-py?) he guided them upstairs to the cells recuperation rooms.
Along the way, a linguistic misunderstanding led to Dr Petersen suspecting Renard of being insane, after the Mexican mentioned that he thought of bridges as women. That was quickly forgotten when the posse reached the room where the agents were being held, padded for their safety. Neither of the be-strait-jacketed loons was who they were looking for, however.
Petersen was laughing as he ran away, his two hulking orderlies ripping off their uniforms to reveal that THEY were the two agents. Or parts of them, anyway. Patchwork criss-crossed their bodies beneath the familiar faces, and they proved brutally strong as they broke Renard, bullets only serving to slow them down.
Cal and Bill held the door of the cell closed against the pounding fists of the orderlies while Journey brought Renard around, and Trent dug through the floor of the cell. The posse dropped through into the nurses' station, leaving the brutes smashing around the cell for a vital few seconds. Long enough for Trent to secure the keys and head off after Petersen.
The doctor had fled to the basement, and there he had a variety of body parts spread on tables, another pair of patchwork men at his command. Cal shot him down, but not before he'd screamed something about 'new flesh', and an amorphous mass of goo oozed from a cabinet behind him, devouring him whole.
The patchwork men charged forward, mauling Renard again, and again sneering at the prospect of being killed by mere firearms. The new flesh assumed the form of Petersen, and began asking all present to embrace it. The Petersen simulacrum began to absorb one of the patchworks, while the free one began to smash at Trent. Cal distracted it with the plight of its ally, and Trent dragged Renard free of the building, the new flesh growing bigger with each victim it absorbed...
It's not quite that bad. My copy, I'm just sticking on eBay.
It's about the daughter of Death, whose best friends are a butterfly and an undead rabbit, wandering the Old West meting out vengeance. Sounds cool, and certainly right up my town square, but none of that from the publicity and blurb actually makes it into the first issue.
Western movies certainly have a tradition of taking a while to set establishing shots of the scenery and characters, and presumably that's why this comic is so slow and empty. Starting out with someone telling a story within someone else's told story, it makes even more bizarre storytelling choices as it goes, introducing characters in a haphazard way that fails to make them compelling or intriguing. They've all got mysterious pasts, but so mysterious that there's no actual clue as to what's going on. Things get done for no good reason.
Westerns have a lot of time to play with, and so taking a few moments here and there to focus on one dude or one place isn't too much a waste of time-economy. With only twenty-two pages in a single issue of a comic, taking three pages to obliquely introduce the group of assholes that tag along with the storytellers is criminal. I think I smell a case of a story being written with the collected edition in mind, single issue coherency be damned...
Add to that gratuitous nudity (and in the centre pages, no less!) and a sing-song fairy tale which, sung out loud (try it!), does not fit any human tune and becomes doggerel, and the whole thing is disappointing.
There's no hook to engender any care toward even a single character, since they're all ciphers and fairly mean as well. Even the supposed purpose of what I guess is the main character - avenging the wronged - doesn't seem to apply yet, as almost all the characters have been mean all the way through.
The artwork is very good, though. It's not the clearest to follow (I assumed that the mysterious McGuffin was just a coin at first, until it unrolled into a scroll later on), but the characters are at least distinct, and for once the West isn't just a mess of browns.
This may have been good had it started in media res, leaving all this gumf to be filled in later. As it is, I won't bother reading any more.
I really should stop being so influenced by covers.
I finished reading last week's 2000AD (Prog 1854) - a nice mix, with Judge Dredd, a steampunk solar system, dinosaurs and speedophiles, zombies in Rome and "It's a space jungle! There'll be space snakes in there, and, och, I dunno, space lions and tigers and wee space spiders that kill in one bite!" - and the back cover had an advert for the Judge Dredd Megazine, issue 341.
In my defence, having a secondary booklet enclosed the Megazine comes in a clear plastic bag, preventing casual perusal of its pages. But once inside, that cover proved to be lies! There is a nun, and there is crime, and there are certainly reasons why it should be sealed so that kids can't look inside, but at no point does the nun start slinging guns! She never so much as touches one! Bah!
Besides that, nothing too extraordinary for the rest of this week's reads. Trinity of Sin: Pandora #4 is kind of just treading water. The whole Seven Sins angle seems to have just abruptly dropped, and Pandora's just milling around looking for someone else to blame.
Wonder Woman #24 is similarly not lacking in event, but in this case it's because something's building in the halls of Olympus. It's a bit of a tell that when regular artist Cliff Chiang is taking a break, they give the poor fill-in guy a story that is mainly people talking, saving the spectacle for their main guy. It's understandable, but must be a little disappointing for the fill-in guy.
Hawkeye #13 continues to be really, really good. I really, really missed it when it didn't come out last month. Considering how the timeline of events is bouncing all over the place, to finally see Clint get to react to what happened three issues ago is amazing.
Avengers Assemble #20 isn't a series that I normally read, but I picked up this one since it's both written by 2000AD's Al 'Zombo' Ewing, and stars the Wasp. I'm glad that I did get it, since despite tying into Marvel's current giant-crossover-event-of-infinite-doom it's filled with more typically-2000AD wackiness, and Pepe Larraz's art is great, very clear and with just the right amount of cartoonishness. Also, it featured a gunslinging green rabbit. It's no gunslinging nun, but I'll take it.
Leaving the Necessity Alliance behind, the posse returned to Shannonsburg for a brief period of recovery. En route, they came across the famous site of Fellheimer's Folly, where an itinerant German maze miner had been crucified atop a spikey pinnacle of rock. Nothing strange about that, save for his body having remained there, undecayed, for over a year.
The posse were warned to stay away by a mild-mannered man in nice clothing, but a little browbeating revealed him to be an Agency man, Junior Agent Call. The Agency had largely given up on the mystery, and left only a skeleton crew to watch the place. When Big John found a hidden entrance in the base of the pinnacle (and made fun of the junior agent), Call reluctantly allowed them to tag along as he investigated.
There was a strangely man-made staircase of stone inside, and Big John led the way with his shotgun. He tripped a few traps along the way, almost being impaled on three occasions by rigged. He and other members of the posse took the weapons and used them to check for similar trapped steps ahead of them,but these did no good when the corridor erupted in green fire, badly burning Cattleman Bill and leaving Call a charred corpse.
There was the sound of a German voice speaking ahead, and John went on to check it out. He found a large cavern where a man was talking with what could only be a demon from straight out the Old Testament. His eyes goggled at this, and the beast was on him, shredding him with its claws and crushing his skull.
The rest of the posse soon found out that bullets had no effect on it, yet the spears glowed in its presence. Taking the hint, they jabbed it to death with the enchanted ghost rock tips, the sorcerer striding out to try and help and only succeeding in burning his own underling. He, it turned out, was not immune to bullets.
Big John was capable of walking despite his grievous injuries, yet somehow refused to believe that he was a dead man walking.
The laboratory was full of potions and books, which the posse knew nothing of; for one thing, the tomes were all in German. They took a variety of the volumes for later inspection, leaving the cave itself to be flooded once the tide came in.
They made a quick stop-off in Shannonsburg, where Cal informed the colonel of Sitting Spirit's death (and of the developments at Fellheimer's Folly), and took the time to start making arrangements for a Thanksgiving party. The posse's boat dropped by the Big M Ranch - Mister Shelton was out at the cattle market - to drop off some invites.
On their way to Perdition, they were accosted by a swarm of devil rays leaping from the water, nearly killing Charley.
At Perdition, the posse met up with Lacy to see if he could decipher the books, and Hellman to inform him of his associate's death. The latter asked them to check out the Petersen Asylum outside town, to retrieve a pair of his agents that he'd had sectioned there. He was pulling out of the area, and wanted to leave no loose ends...
Chandler's Law states that whenever things begin to drag a little, enter a man with a gun. Transformers, of course, can always go one better and have enter a man who is a gun.
Megatron returns from the wilderness of Cybertron just before the first free elections, and is all the more exciting for having been absent for the entirety of the last three volumes. With him comes a whole host of resolutions to the various building schemes of the other power players, and while I unfortunately had some of them spoiled, there were so many that there were still several surprises. And giant robot fights. And long-deserved comeuppances. And a character left winning at the end who has long deserved it...
Saga, on the other hand, is all set up so far (the first two volumes I have read), with new parents (the birth of their child opens the first issue) from opposing sides of an intergalactic war having to evade both sides as well as bounty hunters, ghosts and space monsters. It's basically Star Wars, yet acknowledging that sex exists and made much better by witty banter, gorgeous artwork and alligator butlers:
It ends just as well as it started, and barring one minor character quibble (Wheeljack is a wrecker WTF) it's been consistently entertaining. Each character gets a chance to shine, the conflict introduced is unexpected when it happens and resolved in a most surprising way.
Everyone's in character and recognisable. The characters - even most of the antagonists - are sympathetic rather than generic lumps of metal, and the sacrifices , when they come, have impact. Most importantly of all, the movie shows that it is possible to resolve the conflict without forcing poor Optimus Prime to coup-de-grace someone. It wasn't so hard, was it?
All in all, visually impressive, poignant (managing to highlight the franchise's secondary theme of change) and clever. It also features a scene wherein a character announces themselves to be the Lord of Undeath and commanding his underlings to scorch the world in dragonfire, which is never not awesome.
Papa Rattlesnake flitted in and out of the shadows, flinging more snakes and gobbets of poison from his own mouth as his possessed conjure dolls swarmed into the cavern behind the posse.
In the chaos, Eyes Like Fire rushed to the side of the prone and pin-cushioned form of Born In A Bowl, drawing his war club as he did so. Weematai threw her spear at him, fearing teachery. Struggling through snakes, Renard slashed at the scout, yet what wounds he caused rapidly healed over. Refusing to believe this, Cattleman Bill unloaded shots into him until there were several pieces scattered around.
Weematai blessed the weapons of the posse so that they could hurt the immaterial form of Papa Rattlesnake as he phased through the Hunting Grounds around them. A handful of so-blessed dynamite took care of the swarming dolls, and once Papa collapsed under weight of fire, the snakes disappeared.
The posse ran out with the rescused shaman, yet upon passing their unconscious fellows whom they had left behind - Trent and Sitting Spirit - they found that the latter had been killed by the dolls as they had swarmed over him through the tunnels.
Dynamite did for the Dark Place, and Elworthy's boat was soon puttering back toward the home of the Necessity Alliance. Born In A Bowl thanked the posse, and had them chop off her pinky finger, which continued to move post-severance. She claimed it would point the way to Sees Far Ahead, yet if he proved to be dead she could still arrange a conversation if they brought his skull to her.
Weematai filled everyone in on what had happened since Born In A Bowl's disappearance, how Stalks The Night and his warrior lodge had seized control of the Alliance and were driving it toward a more aggressive stance regarding the white man. Clearly, they had planned for Eyes Like Fire to kill Born In A Bowl and let Big John (or his manitou) take the blame.
Upon returning, Born In A Bowl rapidly took control. The people were overjoyed to see her, and at the posse's urging a proper funeral was arranged for Sitting Spirit, and a wild celebration was held all night.
Stalks The Night sulked throughout as did Big John - most upset to be there at all - but the others enjoyed themselves. Cal shared some cigars and peace-pipes, Bill impressed with some horseback stunts, and even Renard got to dance with Journey. Born In A Bowl proved to be quite a lusty old lady, and her busy hands were a cause of some distraction throughout the festivities.
All too soon, it was time to leave and continue on their way...