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The horror-Western hybrid is a fragile creature to try and
usher onto the earth, a frail little tadpole with very little precedent for
success or survival (BILLY THE KID MEETS DRACULA and FROM DUSK TILL DAWN 3: THE
HANGMAN’S DAUGHTER are just two examples of the sticky stillborn). The great
Joe R. Lansdale is maybe the only name to consistently pull this one off,
boasting the classic novel DEAD IN THE WEST and his awesome run on JONAH HEX
that regrettably inspired the woeful movie of the same name. Still, the concept
of a very dark frontier continues to coax creators to its borders, and Matthew Maxwell's comic series STRANGEWAYS returns with THE THIRSTY/RED HANDS to take on the always
tricky business of merging ghouls with gunslingers.
The first section, "The Thirsty," introduces us to Collins, your
standard-issue laconic ex-soldier who roams the sandy plains on horseback.
Collins wanders into a ghost town infested with vampires, barely escaping with
his fluids intact and flees to a neighboring village where he meets Joachim, a
Spanish vampire hunter with all the answers and a festering grudge. Collins and
Joachim must now rally the disbelieving townsfolk to repel a thirsty herd of
vamps, led by their mysterious and powerful doyen Raphael, or be bled out as
First and foremost, STRANGWAYS: THE THIRSTY/RED HANDS treats
the conventions of the Western genre with respect, and the crackling cowboy
dialogue comes across as authentic and off-the-dusty-cuff. It’s the horror
dimension that’s lacking here, with typical and predictable vampire plotting
driving the tale. The set-up is as routine as a knock-knock joke—Fanged,
sun-shy freaks hiss and attack; trusty sidearms don’t seem to work, but wooden
weapons oddly do. A turned loved one taps on the windowpane, trying to dupe an
oblivious family member into granting him entry. A motley group of stock
characters like the sheriff, the drunken preacher and the saloon maid must sort
out their differences before banding together and taking on a seemingly
insurmountable threat. Granted, the narrative is heavy with action and never
bores, but there’s really nothing at all fresh or distinguishing to recommend.
The distinctive artwork by Gervasio and Jok, an interesting
meld of Rick Geary’s cartoon styling with the inky chiaroscuro of HELLBOY’s
Mike Mignola, works for the most part, but occasionally hinders the storytelling;
some awkward transitions between panels and hazy demarcations between outside
or inside and day or night are confusing. The second, shorter section, titled “Red
Hands”, features the origin of Raphael, the vampire cabal’s leader from the
preceding story, and how he arrived to the American west. It benefits from meatier
content and a smoother and more fundamentally sound art style by Luis Guaragna.
STRANGEWAYS is not in the league of Lansdale or even J.T.
Petty’s decent THE BURROWERS, but it’s not a steaming trail of horse droppings
like BLOODRAYNE 2: DELIVERANCE either. It falls rather blandly in the middle, a
serviceable but uninspired vampire oater. Here’s hoping STRANGWAYS can rustle
up some stronger characterization and more creative plotting for any future
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