The Eldritch Kid – Whisky and Hate
The Western is perhaps my favourite genre of film and so I have to admit to following it fairly closely. Thankfully then it has undergone something of a modern resurgence of the last few years; but by injecting our contemporary consciousness into what is essentially a period piece we have effectively splintered the subject matter into a number of sub-genre’s, the most prominent of which is the Revisionist Western. The Eldritch Kid series stands as such a story, a fact made clear over the first few pages, in which we are introduced to our narrator, an educated indian; the subaltern speaks.
THough as you keep reading you will quickly realise that the revisions go much further than that, writer Christian Read hasn’t simply revised archetypes here but history as a whole. He takes the western and pushes it as far as it can go, then twists it further than that; his west is as weird as it is wild. It’s tempting to call it an Acid Western akin to El Topo or Walker but that term doesn’t quite cut it here, Kid is stronger and darker than that, it’s a veritable Heroin Western. At one stage in the story The Kid says that ” There ain’t no friggen good nor bad. There’s just winning and losing. Smart and dumb.” but I disagree with him on that; The Eldritch Kid is one evil bastard of a book, but it’s also bloody good.
The aforementioned Indian goes by the intriguing native name Ten Shoes Dancing. Ten Shoes is a Navajo shaman in exile looking for a new tribe to protect, but don’t let that vocabulary sway you, he’s no Noble Savage. In a nice subversion of expectations Read has not only put us in the shows of an Indian protagonist but has also crafted his lead as the smartest man in the room; Ten Shoes was educated at Oxford and speaks in canonical quotations. His intelligence also allows for some unforced superiority, we get the politically correct restancing of revisionism but his place above the common White Man is well earnt. This unique combination of the scholarly and the supernatural, Oxford and the occult, is a strong one, oxymoronic on the surface but somehow it works and that tension makes for an interesting character.
The other half of the odd couple around which this comic is centred is entirely more predictable; though he may be the title character The Eldritch Kid is all Man With No Name (Read even chose Clint over Wayne when forced to choose at a signing): he’s strong, silent and shoots to kill. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this though and complaining otherwise would be akin to saying that the story featured too much sand. That said some extra range in future issues, maybe something akin to Roland Deschain’s Dark Tower progression, would be appreciated. I’m glad that despite having his name on the cover the man’s not our protagonist, especially after that eerie epilogue.
Though the majority of Whisky and Hate is spent setting up this core dynamic and the characters within there are also some interesting story sections too. Basing these around the backbone of a pilgrimage is a good narrative structure, allowing the pair to face a number of fantastic foes whilst also highlighting the realistic half of the universe: the dust of the trail, the campfires, the bad company and the chaos of the era. This juxtaposition between weird and west is present in all of the featured adventures, the two constantly clash and combine in ever interesting ways. Read’s reappropriation of the ‘ghost town’ trope is as clever as it is creepy, containing some of the most convincing and mysterious horror moments that i’ve seen in the medium. Following the video game treatise that the only thing more guilt free to killing spree than a Nazi is a Nazi zombie, alongside the more traditional ghouls Read introduces a tribe of Native Indian undead; giving him a killable mass without ever undermining his earlier work redeeming the people. But for all its imagination this is not a whimsical west that the characters are crossing, Kid‘s world has true grit.
Maier’s art most convincingly captures the comics tone; he has taken all of the genre’s traditional hues and moved them down one shade darker. It’s brown all the way through, but the colouring is never boring; this style definitely doesn’t stem from a lack of imagination on his part, instead it is so soft-toned and dirty to distract you from Read’s more ridiculous ideas, to help keep the content grounded. Unfortunately this content can be hit and miss on a panel by panel basis. For all the gravitas it garners through the style these sketches can occasionally come across as gore driven; the first time we see The Kid’s demon bullets it is an awesome moment, but after he’s severed several arms and blown out a ghost’s breasts with his guns the appeal of the gimmick has gone and the whole thing just starts to seem a little garish. Those with a more voracious bloodlust than I will no doubt adore this aspect, but for me there is more impact in leaving a little up to the imagination.
The most shocking moment for me though was not one of those scenes of vicious violence (though a certain Blacksmith’s over malleable material does rank a close second), as a wannabe writer I actually found my jaw most agape at the second issue’s retrospective of the Kid’s past adventures. To churn out so many massive moments and clever concepts as simple single panel filler like he does here is a remarkably brave move, either that or a remarkably insane one. Strangely though i got no sense of the latter, nor did this worry me at all about the IP’s future potential; if anything it actually had the opposite effect. This display of density and sheer scope seems symptomatic of Read’s intricate approach to world building; for every story on the page there are five or ten others that occur but go untold and it is this, more than the dirt and grime, that make his west feel real and lived in.
So this debut volume of The Eldritch Kid does have some short term issues and for those living in its world this would be a big deal, living as they do only in the moment, but we modern day readers have the luxury of time, the time to wait and watch this stunning seedling blossom. What this pair get up to next is a mystery and a good one to ponder, but even more compelling to my mind is how they will do it (Which spells? Which gods? Which guns?) and where (What else lies in this alterna-west?). These are the reasons why I will be anxiously awaiting the follow-up.