Texas Strangers #1
“Training Day, Part 1 of 2”
Writers: Antony Johnston & Dan Evans III
Artist/Letters/Cover artist: Mario Boon
Colors: Traci Hui
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $2.99 US/$3.50 CAN
Antony Johnston, co-writer on this new project, has amassed an impressive list of comics and graphic novels in a relatively short time in the industry, especially when one considers he’s worked exclusively outside of the two best-known publishers, Marvel and DC. When I think of Johnston’s work, I think of the maturity and/or edginess he brings to his storytelling. Texas Strangers is far from edgy or dark in nature, but it’s just as solid as Johnston’s past efforts. He and Dan Evans have crafted a colorful, entertaining and intriguing story for all-ages that makes the most out of two genres: Westerns and fantasy. The story and premise are thoroughly accessible and surprisingly ambitious. Artist Mario Boon’s cartoony approach to the visuals is simple but striking, and the colors really bring out the wondrous energy of the magical elements. Even if this comic-book series doesn’t light up the sales charts during its first go around, I would imagine a digest-sized collected edition would do quite well.
Madara Jane and Wyatt, an adventurous brother and sister, travel all the way from Alaska to the Free State of Texas in the Old West to learn the secret of the mysterious, blood-red dagger they found among their father’s belongings. Instead of answers, the young siblings find trouble in the form of a gang of outlaws and ogres led by a man named Black Bart. The kids also cross paths with the legendary lawmen known as the Texas Rangers (often referred to as the Texas Strangers for their use of magic). While they offer the kids some help, they have more urgent matters to which they must attend.
What strikes me immediately about Boon’s art for this unusual and charming series is his sense of design. He’s blended American history with fantasy quite well, and the designs lend themselves to bright colors. I particularly enjoyed the designs for the native American characters. In the world of Texas Strangers, native American culture has been combined with an elven quality, and the result works quite well. The more monstrous characters — good guys and bad — make for striking and fun visuals as well. Boon’s style reminds me a little bit of that of Neil (The Black Forest) Vokes, Mike Avon (Powers) Oeming and even a hint of the Archie house style.
Traci Hui’s colors are quite vibrant, especially when it comes to the magic spells that often pop up during the course of the story. The colors glow with palpable energy, and they’re appropriately bright, given the all-ages quality of the storytelling. Hui also does an excellent job of conveying the arid quality of the Old West backdrop.
Madara Jane stands out as a strong female protagonist, but her character is balanced nicely by her brother. Wyatt’s is more cautious. While Madara is more courageous yet impulsive, Wyatt acts as her conscience, in a way. While she likes to take the offensive, Wyatt’s more of a defensive strategist (in part out of necessity). I also like that there’s more than one conflict in this story. In addition to Madara and Wyatt’s quest, there’s a cultural and political conflict brewing on the periphery of the small town of Hope, Texas, a conflict that’s actually intriguing and even convincing, despite the fantasy elements that are in play.
A couple of years back, DC’s Wildstorm Productions released Arrowsmith, a series by writer Kurt Busiek and artist Carlos Pacheco. The story was set during the First World War, but it was a war waged in a world in which magic reigned supreme. It was a harsher world than the one we see in Texas Strangers, but the appeal of both titles is the same. Johnston and Evans don’t just re-imagine the Western genre with magical elements, but they’ve retooled a country’s history and entire cultures. Those elements aren’t overt, but they’re there, and they bring an ambitious, clever quality to the storytelling. More than the characters, more than the fantasy, it’s the world that the writers have crafted that stands out as the most interesting, entertaining element of the series. 7/10