Sunday, March 4, 2012

Six guns - Part Two: The Story

Separated from the wider issues surrounding the troubled mini-series, I discuss the merits of the whole project from the creative standpoint.
Diggle and Gianfelice begin "Six guns" with an extended action sequence, serving to introduce several of the main characters. Right from the start, it's clear that the project is intended to be very kinetic and attitude filled, as the main players are all violent men of one sort of another, with the exception of Tarantula, whose predicament starts the events in motion. And while the Texas ranger escorts her for the murder in self-defense, she is also sought after by a biker gang and a mercenary, while a greater mystery slowly revolves around the organization that set her up. 
 The modern day western uses the tired set-up of a tragedy of a loved one as the back story of the several of the main characters, with the traumatic event happening on the very pages. The parallel feels somewhat shallow, as Diggle posits his modern day recreation of Marvel's western characters as an ensemble piece, thus precluding himself for spending too much time on a single cast member. On the other hand, for all the expertly paced, bloody and sweaty shootouts that permeate the "Six guns" pages, the violence is always one step away from being realistic, thanks largely to Gianfelice's style. The young penciller presents these sequences in an exaggerated style that seems equal parts blocky and angular, ie. the reader is constantly aware that these are sequences in a comic book trying for a maximal entertainment effect.
Seeing the rivalry between Tex and Black Rider, Matt Slade's carefree mercenary methods or Tarantula and Two Gun Kid's desperate attempt to get to the bottom of the conspiracy while having their revenge does little more than establish these cynical and world weary characters into anything other than tough guy archetypes, which to be fair is exactly what Diggle and Gianfelice need to tell their action epic. Following the introduction of the main players the plot quickly turns into a familiar western set-up of the mercenaries getting involved in a civil war in Mexico (represented here by its modern day fictional equivalent of the republic of San Diablo). Again, this should not be treated as a cliche and a problem in itself, but a necessary bit of set-up for a modern day western. The plot quickly expands to include the real reasons for the unrest between the north and southern end of the country, each equipped with their own private armies, but the reader will hardly be fooled when the "Roxxon" corporation gets named as the organization behind the conspiracy. Marvel's longtime fictional stand in for famous big oil companies is once again simply a familiar name used in a largely different context, and it's hard to make a case that it helps "Six guns" fit in the company's fictional superhero universe.
Simply put, the reader looking for a superhero experience or any of its derivatives usually associated with the Marvel brand will likely be dissatisfied by Diggle and Gianfelice's work. The series as presented is a modern day action story coming from a completely different set of influences and thereby has much more in common with some of the grittier Image titles. Gianfelice works in a style that is reminiscent of the work of Cully ("Blue Beetle", "Red") Hamner, featuring caricatural visuals that twist and bend in a way that is both superficial and perfectly suited for an action heavy book. Despite his loose style with stylized anatomy, the script calls for a large amount of references, mostly when it comes to armored vehicles and even an airplane, but the penciller rises to the occasion and incorporates the research in a way that helps define the book's visually and feels complementary to his figurework.
For all of the complications Diggle puts the plot through, the energy and the entertainment that comes with "Six guns" overpower any temporary confusion when it comes to the San Diablo conspiracy, not allowing the reader of a complete mini-series to pause at a cliffhanger. As a single storytelling unit, any of these issues seem slight and undistinguished except in their barest professional minimum, but as a story they stand side by side with any of the modern action movies. The final issue does feel a bit contrived and rushed - the series was probably envisioned at the company's standard six issue length, but shortened while in production. As a result, some of the plotting in the ending feels haphazard and spotty, with some of the victories the just acquainted protagonists achieve feeling unearned and too easy.
Yet, with the sales the project eventually wound up earning, it's clear that Marvel was generous when they refrained from cancelling it mid-story. "Six guns" is simply a holdover from a previous editorial regime before the company decided to reorient itself towards exploiting their more successful franchises for maximal effect. For all of the sales DC have gained with the restructuring of their line, the company was likewise forced to abruptly abandon similar projects, with the cancelled "Blackhawks" probably being the best equivalent. The readers and retailers seem completely convinced just what kind of experience they are depending on the superhero publishers to provide, and with the possible exceptions of the popular creators involved with Epic and Vertigo imprints, the prospective readers are much more likely to go to a different publisher when they want a stylish genre exercise.

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