Thursday, July 28, 2011

Independent Graphic Novels For Theater Preparation Volume 1: Cowboys And Aliens Is Interesting . . .

The Good: Interesting concept that is fun, Social message
The Bad: Artwork is shaky, Light on character development, Still a fairly absurd concept.
The Basics: When 1873 is invaded by aliens, cowboys and Apache Indians must work together on the frontier to repel the invasion.

As my wife and I prepare to see the film Cowboys And Aliens, she expressed a surprising antipathy toward participating in this latest outing for Summer Blockbuster Season. I was mollified some by how the film was written by the two writers of Star Trek (reviewed here!), but I thought the best way we could prepare for the movie would be to read the graphic novel upon which it was based. While the previews made my wife say, "It sure looks like they just said, 'what's cool and what haven't we put together yet?' 'Cowboys!' 'Aliens!' 'That's our movie!'" I had a more tolerant view. Graphic novel readers tend to be much more tolerant of weirdness or audacious ideas. In addition to mixing gore and sex pretty frequently with comics like Hack/Slash, graphic novel readers tend to be pretty tolerant of ideas like Mary Magdalene running a casino in Las Vegas while angels and demons do war on Earth in Penny For Your Soul. So, the whole title idea of Cowboys And Aliens didn't phase me.

What did phase me was how ridiculous the idea was in its execution. I mean, Cowboys And Aliens has a certain charming kitsch factor to it, but writers Scott Mitchell Rosenberg, Fred Van Lente and Andrew Foley deliver the book without a sense of it being tongue in cheek. What I did admire about the book was that it opened with parallels in the alien's culture to the founding of the United States, which was both poignant and well-executed. But, combined with artwork that left me unimpressed, Cowboys And Aliens comes across as something utterly silly that doesn't seem to know it is ridiculous and that made it very difficult to keep my interest, even for the hundred pages.

After a discourse on how conquerors crush their opponents and lay waste to their territory as they invade, we find ourselves in Arizona, where Zeke and Verity witness an alien ship crash in the desert. While the aliens are busy killing the Apache Indians who are mystified by the downed ship, Zeke and Verity escape. They go looking for help, but discover most of the settlers in the area have moved on, following the silver in the area being mined out. Zeke and Verity are ambushed by an alien motorcycle gang (flying motorcycle), but they are rescued by Chief Medicine Crow and Warhawk and their Apache warriors.

Looking to save Silver City from an all-out alien invasion that will come - they are told by a defecting alien, Ra Chak Kai - once a transmitter gets built, Zeke, Verity, Warhawk, and Alan Cross (the mayor) plan to stop The Caste by destroying their facility. Armed with a microwave pistol, an energy whip, explosives and scraps of the levitating motorcycles, the group tries to repel the alien invasion, not realizing that the threats from within may be as grave as the threat from the Caste.

What works in Cowboys And Aliens? It's a nifty idea, a bunch of Western settlers stopping the genocide of the Indians to work with them to stop alien invaders. Ra Chak Kai is a sympathetic character as she does not like the direction her race is going in and takes a stand against the leaders. The sense of nobility of the rebel insider is characterized well with her.

As well, Zeke's learning curve while he begins practice shooting the green vials (which turn out to be explosive) is a decent bit of realism thrown into the otherwise ridiculous story. Zeke learning to use the microwave gun is all right, though.

Unfortunately, that's about all I've got other than the colors looking rich and decent. The story is ridiculous. In addition to an alien race that has effectively subjugated most of its people being defeated by cowboys and indians, the plot is mired by subplots, predictability and a stunning lack of a sense of conflict. There are two romantic subplots which both feel forced and mirror the message that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

Cowboys And Aliens is also surprisingly lacking in character development. Zeke and Verity are not entirely unlikable, but they don't significantly grow or change over the course of the graphic novel. Instead, these are two young Westerners who are thrown along by the dictates of the plot rather than a truly rich sense of will.

The artwork, primarily by Dennis Calero and Luciano Lima, is well-colored and has characters that look recognizable. But none of the artwork is particularly extraordinary and the creature design of the alien Caste is little more than people with lightly green skin and slightly purple hair. I was unimpressed.

Actually, rather than continuing to beat the poor, dead horse, I think I shall leave Cowboys And Aliens there: I was unimpressed.

For other graphic novel reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Flight Volume 1
Lost Girls
Jesus Hates Zombies Volume 1: Featuring Lincoln Hates Werewolves


For other book reviews, please be sure to check out my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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