Monday, August 29, 2016

Dead West Omnibus vol. 1 review

    The Weird Weird West. You know, it's kind of strange but the Pirates of the Caribbean movies successfully grafted ghost stories and pirates together into a massive franchise but the Weird Western has never really gotten its niche despite the 20th century being utterly drenched in the genre. Deadlands, Cowboys vs. Aliens, Jonah Hex, and a few others exist but they've never gotten the kind of signature piece they deserve.

    I suspect this is because the Weird Western requires creators who are willing to confront the inherent contradictions in the genre. It's a period lionized by the American psyche but with a dark underbelly we're only beginning to confront even a century later. There's a reason Django Unchained was made in the 21st century despite the fact a black man shooting up Confederates is something I was a 1st day moviegoer for.

    I don't think Dead West is going to reach the millions of readers necessary to turn the genre's expectations the way Sergio Leone's movies did for the idea, "Hey, maybe cowboys weren't a bunch of really moral nice guys" but I do think it's a piece which nicely combines a zombie novel with the ugliness of the Wild West. It's a novel which sometimes too much shows just how ugly a current of racism there was in the Wild West (albeit I've yet to see any media, novel or otherwise, which illustrated just how many minorities worked alongside whites as historically).

    The Dead West Omnibus vol. 1 collects the novels Those Poor, Poor Bastards and The Ten Thousand Things. It collects the adventures of Nina Weaver, a half-Native American woman and her father Lincoln. After narrowly avoiding being assaulted for her heritage in a nearby town, she's ironically saved by the arrival of a zombie cattle horde.

    Escaping with a group of survivors which can barely contain their loathing for each other, they arrive at a fort protected by a Jesuit priest with miraculous powers. From there, it becomes a siege where each of the survivors' personalities threatens to turn them against each other. While they eventually escape, the horror behind the zombie horde pursues right into the largest city in the West.

    Much of the narrative thrust is about how, even in the face of supernatural evil and with supernatural good at their side, most of the humans can't resist falling on their own prejudices. Nina's life is endangered simply because of her Native heritage, Jasmine the prostitute is subject to constant sexual harassment, and money is more important to the majority of them than helping each other. It's a common theme in zombie apocalypse stories the real enemy is man but Dead West transplants this to the Old West and the struggles then.

    There's some areas I feel could have been handled better like the fact everyone continues to hold the priest in disdain despite not only his verifiable miraculous powers but also the fact they are holding the zombie army at bay. I found myself thinking Richard Dawkins would re-evaluate his position on Christianity if it could hold back the living dead. Still, I enjoyed Nina's own antagonistic relationship with the faith which makes sense given her heritage.

    I enjoyed all of the supporting cast and give credit to the authors for representing the diversity of the Wild West in real life. My favorite characters in addition to Jasmine and Lincoln was Strobridge. The railroad baron is responsible for ninety-percent of the problems in the story but everyone keeps siding with him because he's charismatic and rich.

    While I think the omnibus focuses a bit too much on the conflicts among them versus the supernatural threat, I really enjoyed the characters' interaction. I particularly enjoyed Nina's relationship with Jasmine, even though that didn't end up going anywhere. I also felt the final resolution was a bit of an anticlimax which left a lot of unanswered questions. Still, it was a fun crazy adventure from beginning to end.

    In conclusion, if you like Weird Westerns and zombie apocalypse stories then you'll probably like this. I do, so I did.


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