Anyone familiar with my writing for this site has probably figured out I read a lot of genre comics. Don’t get me wrong, I have pretty broad taste and tend to read everything from three panel gag strips to slice-of-life auto-bio comics and even the occasional art comic by accident. But more than anything else I keep going back to genre comics because they are my bread, butter, waffles, and scones! That being said, being a genre fan has its problems, in particular dealing with the ungodly glut of genre comics that come out at all times, which can make finding the legitimately good ones a challenge. You have to do it though, you have to search; it's the only way you find those odd little gems that make it all worth it. WesterNoir is not one of those gems.
Created by writer Dave West and artist Gary Crutchley, WesterNoir is designed to evoke the feel of old dime novels, with even the cover having a worn bent look to it, and it combines the Western and noir genres with a yarn about a fellow named Josiah Black, a former sheriff pulled into a mission of revenge because of a woman which then quickly turns into something far more complicated.
Okay. We should probably start by discussing the fact that this book is ostensibly a mash up. Genre mash ups, pretty much by definition, require their stories to inhabit the tropes of all of the genres it encompasses, and more often than not that also means inhabiting those genres clichés. Interestingly though, the Western and noir (I know there's some debate of whether noir qualifies as its own genre, but I personally think it does) have a lot of similarity’s in terms of initial tropes: violent backdrops, flawed protagonists that follow their own sense of honor and justice, and female characters that are designed to move the plot forward by either being saved or overcome. I know it's probably just a name, but when you name a comic WesterNoir you have to assume it did so to say something about those genres. Honestly though, after reading it I can’t help but wonder why a combination of the two would even be needed in the first place.
The question then becomes how well the book works as a genre comic. Well, I’ve often said that a good genre comic needs to display one of two things, either 1) a new spin that comments on the genre in an interesting way or 2) a full understanding of the genre's building blocks and utilization of them all masterfully. Well, this book certainly doesn’t do the first, but West's story does have a firm enough understanding of what makes the two genres he's playing with tick. But ultimately he uses neither of the genres in a particularly interesting way. At times it just feels like the story is going through the motions, which is never more apparent than when it's revealed what drives the protagonist; at this point it reads as generic as if you just up and called it PROTAGONIST MOTIVATION 4563 in-book.
The art is competent, but not visually distinctive enough to really make an impression among all the other genre comics I've read. Crutchley utilizes some strong, clear line work, but his panel-to-panel storytelling isn’t as good as it could be. There are a few instances of panels being reused (which is fine in certain instances but looks sloppy here) and some odd panels that don’t fit as well as they should. I’m thinking particularly of a panel that I think was supposed to show a woman going through a door, but it ended up just looking like a painting on hinges. There are some small moments that are very strong and show off Crutchley's strengths: a sequence of a house burning down, a four panel scene from a hill depicting a shoot out, to name a couple. But these moments aren't enough to carry the book between awkward action scenes that just don’t work as well as you would hope.
I also got the feeling that this book was meant to be more atmospheric than it actually was. Everything in this book has stark white backgrounds, which is odd for a book that utilizes the noir genre, normally characterized by its use of inky blacks. I get the point that they're also in a Western, which is all wide open spaces and blue skies, but it's a point that should have been sacrificed for the good of the noir feel, in my opinion. The white ultimately ends up being far too bright for the kind of story this book is trying to tell and yanks you out of the narrative. The other reason I think this book was supposed to exude more atmosphere was that by the last third of the main story the book takes an odd turn into a third genre that has connections to both the western and noir, and also tends to utilize the dark atmosphere which you don’t get a sense of at all, leaving you scratching your head.
That turn into a third genre was probably the straw that broke the camel's back in terms of my opinion of this book. WesterNoir hadn’t even utilized its two titular combined genres all that effectively, so adding a third one just felt like piling on to a car wreck. I know this is the first part of a mini series, but for an opening it just left me incredibly disappointed. This doesn’t mean that the book won't get better with its next installments, but I won't be coming back. I plan to keep searching for more gems in genre comics, even if it means sifting through rocks like this book to do it.
TL;DR: A genre mash up of the Western and noir genres has potential to be cool, but this one doesn’t say anything interesting about either medium by the end.
WesterNoir is written by Dave West with art by Gary Crutchley. Published by Accent UK, you can ask your local comic book shop to order it (through Diamond), purchase their books either through their website or digitally through the Lush Comics platform for indie and self-published comics.
A review copy of WesterNoir was graciously provided to Spandexless by the publisher.