Well too bad, because I'm back. Reports of my death were greatly exaggerated, now gaze upon my words, ye mighty, and despair. When my editor first read the tagline of "Murder Moon," book one in the Strangeways series, I reacted very much like a dog, which turned out to be entirely appropriate. I heard the words "Civil War" and instinctively perked up in interest. Turns out this comic, written by Max Maxwell with art by Luis Guragna, is a bit more about werewolves and a bit less about the war that had my head buried in giant war books with all their massive double paged murals of famous battles, but nevertheless I took an interest.
Now mind you, if there's one thing I never cared for, it was Halloween monsters, but that doesn't mean "Murder Moon" isn't a great comic.
You're probably wondering what the plot is, aren't you? To put it simply, it's cowboys and werewolves. But unlike the new obsession with "Cowboys versus Whatever Nerds Are Into Right Now" films that have been selling themselves on their gimmicky titles alone (and YES, I know it was based on a comic book), "Murder Moon" brings a fresher interpretation to an old Hollywood monster and executes its story in a way that keeps itself from falling into the gimmick trap that other character mashups have since pirates versus ninjas got old.
You have these two guys, Seth and Web (short for Webster), who are trying to transport a reverend to one place or other, when all of a sudden they're attacked by a monster that nearly slaughters the whole group. From there the plot is simple enough, but that's because this is a character driven story, and so what really matters are how the characters are developed and how the werewolf drives the story. The werewolf is suitably terrifying to look at, and his strength, endurance and evasiveness make him not only a brutally tough opponent but tough to track and find as well, which brings a lot of tension to the story. Webster's a bit of a worrywart while Seth, a Civil War vet, plays it cool, and together they form a good Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid duo.
Speaking of references, this comic has them in spades. It's a supernatural Western, with a few hints of Sergio Leone here and some Cowboy/Indian tension like you might see in the 1950s and 60s. There's even a pretty good mugshot that was a dead ringer for--well take a look.
Overall I think the story feels very fresh, and it comes at a time when combining Western themes with horror is still pretty new in terms of popular exposure, namely a survival horror version of the videogame Red Dead Redemption. It doesn't feel contrived at all, and the grim tone matched with the capabilities of the protagonists makes for a very tense and real story--real in the sense that the story just naturally fits together out of all the pieces, flowing very smoothly.
This comic seems to love to use ideas that I traditionally dislike and use them in a way that makes me like them. Like my general boredom with werewolves, I never took much to highly detailed black-and-white comics because the sheer resolution of detail risks making action confusing by trying to pack too much in, making it all look like a jumbled mess of lines. That doesn't mean black-and-white done on this scale can't be awesome though. The monochrome really does work well for this comic as it helps give a vintage feeling to it, and Luis Guragna is very talented at swapping the proportions of black and white to do everything from give suspense to a scene, to give the time of day or make a character look real sinister.
Motion isn't a huge player even in the action scenes; it's a lot of poses for shots, but it works well. Besides, I don't think the action is really the star of the show here; Guragna loves his faces, and there are tons of close-up shots where he really makes his efforts shine. From a distance faces become iconic, and it adds a lot of uniqueness to each character--Seth is all shadows over his face, his sister's lined face displays her inner troubles, and so on.
This comic took a lot of tropes and ideas that I have never really been too enthusiastic about and put them together to make something totally worth reading. The only real problem is that the website I was trying to read it on is a little wonky in terms of navigation and stability; it wasn't easy jumping to any page I wanted to get to, and some of the pages didn't display properly. It could always be a problem on my end but just be aware.
"Murder Moon" was originally printed in 2008, but has recently been made available online (how I read it). But if you really want a hard copy, you won't have to wait long. "Murder Moon" will be re-solicited by Diamond early next year, along with the new release of Strangeways book two, "The Thirsty."
TL;DR: Murder Moon is a great mashup of different genres with excellent art, and I have no idea why you haven't read it yet because there is no good reason not to.
"Murder Moon" is book one of the Strangeways series, written by Max Maxwell and illustrated by Luis Guragna. It is available online here, and you can also check out the larger Strangeways site, which also features other writing and comics.
Editor's Note: Strangeways was brought to the attention of Spandexless by the author, Max Maxwell, who was also gracious enough to provide us with a digital copy for review once David's issues with the website became apparent.