Writer: Sam Sarkar
Artist: Garrie Gastonny
Colors: Imaginary Friends Studio
Letters: Annie Parkhouse
Cover artists: Garrie Gastonny/Stanley “Artgerm” Lau/Dave Wilkins
Editor: David Elliott
Publisher: Radical Publishing
Price: $1.00 US
Sometimes it seems like every week brings with it a new publisher throwing its hat into the comic-book ring. This week is Radical Publishing’s big coming out party, with the release of this comic book and the first issue of Hercules: The Thracian Wars. Not all of these newer publishers offer a product to the marketplace that’s really up to a professional level. Fortunately, Radical doesn’t appear to be one of those outfits, at least not judging by the work in this debut episode of Caliber. The high concept is fairly simple: Arthurian legends meet the Lone Ranger. Writer Sam Sarkar doesn’t force the square peg of the legend of Excalibur into the round hole that is the Western genre too hard, and the end result is a surprisingly cohesive, entertaining and fresh take on old stories. Also impressive is the artwork by Garrie Gastonny. His efforts yield a painted look that balances the gritty, raw qualities of the Western elements with the magical fantasy nicely. If I’d been the editor of this book, there’s really only one major change that I’d call for, and that’s to do something about the painful predictability of the plot.
Though settled by the white man for some time, the American West remains a raw, untamed land, and that brings with it the potential for conflict, mistrust and death. A shaman with the Nez Perce knows that dark times lie ahead, and he’s learned of a way to ensure that justice and law triumph over the coming chaos. He must find the man destined to be the Lawbringer, but before he can find him, he had to first find the enchanted weapon that he is fated to wield. With the powerful and eldritch firearm in hand, he sets out to place it in the right hands. When his visions lead him to a trustworthy, reasonable captain in the U.S. cavalry, he believes he’s ensured a bright future. He soon discovers that he may have erred in interpreting his sacred visions.
Gastonny’s artwork is truly enhanced by the computer colors. It takes on a painted look that brings so much more to the mix. It’s really what’s responsible for the strength of the visuals. Those colors bring texture to skin, energy to the mystical elements and a convincing, dark atmosphere to an otherwise straightforward story. Gastonny’s strong, imposing figures stand out as well. He’s got a solid eye for anatomy, and he plays with perspective and scope to great effect. His designs for the masked villains of the story is striking; it reminds me of something Barry (The Order) Kitson might have developed. The ornate nature of the firearm from which the series derives its title conveys its magical nature but isn’t overly done so as to make it look out of place or implausible in the Western setting.
I’m impressed that Radical opted to price its inaugural comics at an accessible, friendly buck apiece. Readers will certainly find they get more than their money’s worth with this dollar comic. I am disappointed, though, that Radical has diluted its brand coming right out of the gate by offering this comic with three different covers. I swear, it seems like there are fewer first and “key” issues coming out with just one cover these days than those with multiple variants.
One minor problem with the book is clarity in the lettering. The font is bold and easy to read, but narrative captions and inserted dialogue get the same treatment, making for a couple of confusing scene transitions.
Early on in the book, it’s clear that Sarkar’s story is about recasting the legendary sword of Excalibur has an enchanted gun; it’s actually a pretty obvious take on the legend. Excalibur the sword, and the caliber of a gun. Nice play on words. That early revelation, combined with the introduction of a young boy named Arthur into the story, directs the reader down a clear path… too clear a path, truth be told. This first issue holds no surprises, which is unfortunate. Nevertheless, the storytelling is solid, and the premise is clever and entertaining. Jean-Michel, the biracial shaman who serves as the story’s catalyst, is a strong, fascinating character, and it seems clear that not only will he play Merlin to the young hero, but will serve in the Tonto role as well. I certainly hope his part is an ongoing one. The worldly, spiritual figure really shines in this first issue. 7/10