Way back in January of 2012 I wrote a review for the first volume of Tall Tales from the Badlands and I dug it a lot. This was partly because I have a lot of affection for the Western genre, but it had a lot more to do with the fact that all the creative talent involved was obviously committed to their crafts and told some really solid stories. So when the chance to read the second volume of the book came along I was definitely interested. That same commitment to craft is still evident in this volume but I was also surprised at how much more this volume played around with the idea of what could be defined as a Western. It was slightly disappointing to the part of me that likes gunfights and bad men doing bad things, but it was ultimately the part of me that is likes quality storytelling that won out and was intrigued.
Like the previous volume Tall Tales from the Badlands comes with five distinct stories:
“A Nation of Laws” (written by Sean Fahey with art by Boria “Borch” Pena) is ostensibly a legal drama revolving around a frontier town sheriff that hopes that the town finally getting its own judge will end the days of high noon shoot outs and lynch mobs. But instead, we’re presented with a civilized justice system being shown as completely incompatible with the hard edged mindset of the West. Although the story often falls into the trap of having way too much text on the page, I think that’s an unavoidable problem with the story Fahey is trying to tell. Lawyers are long-winded bastards after all. But also the end result is pretty interesting. You have to imagine a civilized legal system was the pot of gold at the end of the blood-soaked rainbow during the bad old outlaw days of the West and the way this story resolves really plays to that. Pena's art throughout the story is interesting and even though he gets stuck with a few pages of talking heads, he makes it work with some expressive character work (including one panel that comes as close to the Metal Gear Solid Exclamation Point as I’ve seen in awhile) and still manages to bookend the story with some fiery iconography that is very cool looking.
Next up comes “The Great Wall” (written by Sean Fahey with art by Giannis Milogiannis) is a relatively low key generational story of a Chinese restaurant owner spending some time with his great grandson. This story probably takes the most liberty with being defined as a Western as its only connecting tissue to the genre is the fact that the grandfather of the story worked on the Pacific Railroad for over two years until its completion. It’s a stretch but it works because it’s a story about a incredibly underrepresented people in a lot of Western media. Chinese immigrants were such a huge part of why the railroad expansion and the industry of that time and it’s a near tragedy that they aren’t properly remembered as the influence they were. Fahey manages to acknowledge it with a degree of tact that I think works very well. What really interested me about the story though was the artwork by Milogiannis, who is primarily known for science fiction work (his own work is a cyber punk police story Old City Blue as well as a handful of issues of Prophet). His work here is far more restrained but that makes it all the more effective as the story skips to the various memories of the grandfather, which are seen through photographs and the subtle vocal tics of the characters that is ultimately what makes the story work as well as it does. It's not perfect, but it's definitely interesting.
The next story, which is partially notable as it’s the only story not written by the brothers Fahey, is called “Paw” (written by Nick Nunziata with art by Carlos Trigo) and probably the most straightforward story of the book. The story starts with a child being shot in the head and ends with a dead man lying on top of said child's grave, so Nunziatta isn’t pulling any punches with his writing. Despite the full-throttle nature of the story he still manages some good characterization and even manages to sprinkle some Hatfield & McCoy-esque undertones without hitting the reader over the head with them. This is definitely the most generic story of the book but it still works. Particularly I think it works because of Trigos' blocky art style that borders on a sort the cartoony but manages to balance the line and more often than not maintains the grit and painful sorrow that the story needs to be taken seriously.
“The Fastest Way to Travel” (written by Seamus Kevin Fahey with art by Pablo Peppino) is a silent story, a storytelling holdover from the previous volume, revolving around a black stallion that is constantly changing hands. With no dialogue this is really Peppino's show. and for the most part his art work. The overall story is pretty light and honestly it’ll vary whether or not you think it's worth the pages given to it, but even if only for the one panel where Peppino shows a rider breaking the stallion with his spurs breaking its skin and pushing the stallion to its limit I couldn’t help but be impressed even if the overall story isn’t that interesting.
Finally, we come to “The Inside Man” (written by Sean Fahey with art by Ger Curti). a story about a man who works for the Pacific Railroad and is tempted to sell out his employer for wealth and the life of an outlaw. Fahey keeps the plot twisty enough that it has its share of surprises and Curti's art is rough and manages to build a steady bit of suspense as the story goes on. It's fitting that this is the last story of the book as “The Inside Man” has a lot of spiritual similarities to “A Nation of Laws”. However, where the first story has a man embracing the Spirit of the West, this one focuses on a much more complicated relationship with that spirit, but in a way that takes the reader by surprise with a last panel that is so haunting... well you'll just have to read it.
All-in-all, the second volume of Tall Tales from the Badlands is a much different beast than the first volume, and although I don’t necessarily think it's stronger than the first, it is a lot more interesting in how it plays with the genre. The Western can restrict itself too often to stories about gunslingers and bandits and the wide range of stories presented here works more to benefit than detriment. It shows that the creator are growing as storytellers and if they keep this up into future volumes they will no doubt be able to figure out a middle ground of bloody showdowns and legitimate heart.
TL;DR: Although similar to the first volume, this second volume of Tall Tales from the Badlands is going for a different kind of genre storytelling. It works, but if your expectations were for high noon showdowns you may be disappointed. But if that’s all you're interested in there a thousand Punisher comics you can read.
Tall Tales from the Badlands #2 is written by Sean Fahey, Seamus Kevin Fahey and Nick Nunziata with art from Boria “Borch” Pena, Giannis Milogiannis, Carlos Trigo, Pablo Peppino, and Ger Curti. It is self-published by the Fahey brothers' Black Jack Press. You can buy the book both physically and digitally.
A review PDF of Tall Tales from the Badlands was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creators.