High Moon, v. 1
Collects: High Moon Chapters 1-3 (originally available at http://zudacomics.com/)
Released: October 2009 (Zuda / DC)
Format: 192 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401224622
What is this?: Weird Western intrigue as gunfighters meet werewolves in the Old West.
The culprits: Written by David Gallaher and art by Steve Ellis
I admit I never would have heard of High Moon, v. 1, if it hadn’t been for Valerie D’Orazio’s Occasional Superheroine blog. High Moon is the second release from DC’s Webcomic line, Zuda. The line’s first release, Bayou, passed me by without making an impression.
But High Moon did appeal to me. It was firmly in the weird Western genre, with six shooters and werewolves and other supernatural nastiness. I hadn’t heard of writer David Gallaher or artist Steve Ellis, but that wasn’t an important consideration. When it came down to it, though, buying High Moon was a whim I indulged to get free shipping.
Breaking with usual tradition, I’ll discuss Ellis’s end of the collaboration first. I like his relatively realistic humans, which contrasts with the extreme grotesqueries of the monsters. His sense of character design is usually good and sometimes better than that; his steampunk Tesla collaborator, Tristan, is the best part of the art. But even though I like his characters, they do tend to look a little alike — or sometimes the same character doesn’t look anything like himself. In the first chapter, there is one too many old white guys with overabundant facial hair, and it took a second reading to realize there was only one black guy in the story. In a story that deals extensively with transformations and subtle hints, Ellis’s work — especially in the first chapter — doesn’t quite cut it, unless you’re willing to give it a second read. And High Moon is a high-concept romp — you shouldn’t have to read it twice.
But maybe I’m being too hard on Ellis’s pencils. His drawing isn’t helped by the coloring, which I suppose was his work as well. Much of the story is colored with a dominant palette, usually deep blues or fiery reds. In theory, such color schemes tend to set the mood. In actuality, they tend to drown out subtleties in the work and flood the eyes with uniformity. (Or bore the viewer; the post “No Man’s Land” Detective Comics stuck with almost a monochrome, and the art nearly put me to sleep.) These colors don’t bore. They are vivid, leaping off the page at readers’ before the linework has a chance to make an impression. In the second and third chapter, this isn’t as important, since there are fewer subtleties to the plot or transformations. But, as clichéd as it is, you never get a second chance …
Gallaher’s story and characters should be fun. I can feel it in my bones. Somehow, though, I never engage with the characters and never enjoy the plot. The former is because there are carefree, fun characters; everyone has a dark past, something that has literally and figuratively scarred them. It could have to do with the switch in protagonists after Chapter 1, especially given the two leads didn’t interact enough, and the new lead felt thrust upon the reader by authorial fiat. Also, Gallaher seemed to feel there was a symbolic passing of the torch, but it never showed up on the page.
The story … the story is lacking, somehow. The art can’t be entirely blamed for the confusion; Gallaher plays it a little too subtle in places. (That might be my fault for not reading too carefully, but I don’t know that I should have to read that carefully.) The quest of former Pinkerton agent MacGregor to round up a gang, rescue a kidnapped girl, and deal with the supernatural he’s obviously battled before has a lot of great elements, and his own secret adds a little something to his character. He has a grim sense of humor. But the addition of his past with Eddie Conroy, the secret of the mines, the sheriff’s daughter … I think Gallaher thought he was wrongfooting readers who saw the big werewolf and jumped to the obvious conclusion. He was, but he was also adding a lot of clutter to a story that didn’t need it to be interesting. The second and third chapters are a little more streamlined, but the new protagonist isn’t quite as interesting.
Perhaps it was a great misreading on my part, thinking that the story should be fun. But on the other hand, I have no interest in a weird Western where everyone is miserable, especially when the writer heaps the misery on the characters before he gets me to start liking them.
(Oh, and I’m sure having the cavalry captain say “I’m your huckleberry” seemed like a cool idea. Yes, it sounded cool when Val Kilmer said it as Doc Holliday in Tombstone. It’s not cool here. And the army doesn’t have a rank of “commander.”)
Obviously, I didn’t like High Moon. The rating below is higher than my negative comments might indicate; High Moon gets a bonus simply for being part of the weird Western genre. Fortunately, readers can sample it before making a decision — actually, read the entire series, including the start of the fourth chapter, online at Zuda Comics.
Rating: (2 of 5)