Created & Written by Jorge Vega
Pencils by Dominic Vivona
Colors by Nei Ruffino
Letters by Shawn de Pasquale
Penny Dreadful Written by Priest
Penny Dreadful Illustrations by Kevin Mellon
Cover price: $14.99; Available now
Jorge Vega‘s Gunplay suffers most from the limitations of stuffing an epic plot into a slim trade paperback. The 2007 Platinum Studios’ Comic Book Challenge centers around a Civil War buffalo soldier whose curse compels him to kill one person every day of his life, a concept with enough dramatic potential to fill a series ten times this long.
Much of the story is told not through panels and speech bubbles, but in alternating chapters of a penny dreadful-style prose piece. Priest’s descriptive, sometimes ostentatious, writing and Kevin Mellon‘s dynamic sketches make a respectable attempt at anchoring the tale’s heart and soul. However, stuffed as they are between the pages of a more traditional comic book, they feel less like a conscious stylistic choice and more like a way of squeezing in more story in fewer pages.
In the pages of the comic proper, artists Dominic Vivona and Nei Ruffino bring the action to life with rich, vivid pictures — when they’re at their very best, you can almost taste the dusty air and feel the searing Western sun. Vega’s dialogue is uniformly strong, and the story moves along at a good pace.
With all the obvious talent behind this novel, it’s both surprising and disappointing that the overall experience feels a bit hollow. Neat as the action is, the emotional connection just isn’t there. Murderous soldier Abner Meeks is supposed a mysterious antihero in the vein of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, but Vega pushes the enigmatic angle too hard and ultimately makes him too distant to be truly interesting. The few glimpses we do get of his inner workings suggest a powerful story that, alas, remains untold.
Gunplay reads like the first draft of a great novel — inspired, but incomplete and rough around the edges. I hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this buffalo soldier, but I’m also hoping he’ll be a bit more cleaned up the next time we meet.