Graphic Novel Review – Iron West
I took a trip to my local public library recently, and picked up four graphic novels at random. The fifth one was deliberate, as I saw yet another Doug TenNapel book on the shelves. Doug TenNapel creates artwork that I enjoy for the most part, but holds anti-progressive views that I despise. Thus, in an attempt to read his work while also not directly monetarily supporting him, I’ve always picked up his works from a public institution. Today, I’m reviewing Iron West, a 2006 release from Image Comics.
Set in 1898, in the desert land of Twain Harte, California, a couple of post-Gold Rush prospectors dig up a glowing sphere that projects their faces onto its surface. Confused by this development, one of them gets to watch as the more inquisitive prospector gets impaled by a robotic automaton that exceeds their comprehension. The scene immediately shifts to the story of one Preston Struck, a scrupulous thief, who has been cornered by a bounty hunter and has to hitch a ride on a passing train to avoid capture. Shot in the belly before even getting as far as the next boxcar, Preston’s pursuers catch up with him, but they are all ambushed by the humanoid robots who then slay Preston’s enemies. Preston escapes the train predicament, but has yet to find a solution for his gaping abdomen wound. Preston is rescued by an indigenous American shaman and Sasquach. The shaman explains the robots’ evil intentions to Preston, but he pays no attention to the harbinger of doom. Preston’s ambivalence and the mechanical menace become the main antagonistic force of the rest of the book.
This is the first Doug TenNapel graphic novel that I’ve read that didn’t have color. Knowing how well the colors have been handled in future books of his, such as Cardboard, I can’t help but think that this is a regrettable limit of the resources available at the time. Those looking for the style characteristic of Earthworm Jim won’t find it here, as TenNapel has found a slightly different style now that the 90s are over. Every human character’s silhouette is dramatically different, but the robots are too similar looking considering that many of them are based off of people that the creation sphere from the opening scene encountered, rather than complete copies of one another. I also thought that the horse seen in a few panels was pretty Don Bluth inspired, which is a nice touch.
What holds this book back from being as good as Cardboard is that it’s a children’s story that features a lot of adult themes and concepts, but isn’t mature enough to make any use of them. Hookers, such as Struck’s love interest, are referred to as such without much euphemism, people get shot and die, and the Loch Ness Monster gets beheaded (yep), but the character development is way too simple and convenient to match the interests of an older readership. Struck’s lack of moral backbone is overcome in the most unconvincingly saccharine way imaginable, Struck’s devotion to his love interest swings back and forth in such a way that I’m not convinced that simply beating the bad guys will give the two a happy ending, and the bounty hunter character disappears from the story when he could have been used to a good effect later on.
The book is a fun, dumb, action packed adventure that doesn’t offer much in the way brain food. I haven’t read very many graphic novels like that honestly, but if you enjoyed the recent straight-forward action film Cowboys and Aliens, then you’ll like this over some shlock like Wild Wild West. It features everything a decent western action story should have, a hardass sheriff, a whore with a golden heart, the Loch Ness Monster (yeah), an outlaw heel-face turn, and a horse gets shot. Why not?