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One Last Ride!

18 May

Only the Legends live forever…

These words are very important – as lessons about any story, be it fictional, historical or even a combination of the two… Whatever happens in life, the facts may or may not make it down memory lane over time and the same goes for all kinds of details – but the Legends… Ah, they are immortal!

This weeks Wayfarer takes us into some very familiar territory. Some of you will find much nostalgia and names from days past, others might just – I hope – be inspired to pick up books they’ve never known about and find new worlds and heroes.

Today we’re here to talk about a mini-series from a few years back called “Blaze of Glory: Last Ride of the Western Heroes” written by John Ostrander.

Before getting to the review proper it occurred to me that not everyone gets the appeal of the old west and some might dismiss this saga out of hand based on just that. Now dont take this as pushing an opinion, but I feel everything has it’s upsides and worthy points, you have spectacular tales such as this one and by the same token you can have stuff like… well Wild Wild West (the modern movie version…).

This series however hearkens to the real Wild West, the world that captured hearts and minds and till today resonates with so many for any number of reasons. To really understand it, I call your attention to this theory I heard once in a movie no one I know ever watched (that I know of…) where a hitchhiker is quoting to the driver the basic idea of a theory from one Frederick Jackson Turner called the Frontier Theory.
Well I’m not gonna drag it but here’s the idea in a nutshell: (kudos if you know the movie!)

Hitcher: “…he was an historian. About a hundred years ago he came up with a theory about the frontier. He said the frontier was a safety valve for civilization, a place for people to go to keep from goin’ mad. So, whenever there were folks who couldn’t fit in with the way things were, nuts, and malcontents, and extremists, they’d pack up and head for the frontier. That’s how America got started – all the crackpots and troublemakers in Europe packed up and went to a frontier which became the thirteen colonies. When some people couldn’t fit in with that, they moved farther west, which is why all the nuts eventually ended up in California. Turner died in 1932, so he wasn’t around long enough to see what would happen to the world when we ran out of frontier. Some people say we have the frontier of the mind, and they go off and explore the wonderful world of alcohol and drugs, but that’s no frontier. It’s just another way for us to fool ourselves. And we’ve created this phony frontier with computers, which allows people to, you know, think they’ve escaped. A frontier with access fees?”
Driver: “What about space? You know, the final frontier!”

Hitcher: “Ah, Star Trek isn’t space. That’s television – fine fuckin’ frontier that is. Besides, how many folks can just pack up and go to space?”

And you know what? In a way the man’s completely right. This is precisely what appeals – those of us who have a penchant for wildness, that ‘frontier spirit’ and desire to just get out and away and make a new world, we are the ones who find an innate love for such tales and idea’s and the things they embody – both good and bad. Some say “You don’t know how ugly things could be back then!” and while I agree there is a certain truth in that – ITS THE WHOLE POINT! Finding yourself, chasing the unknown and building a new life and fighting to keep it. Law and life and ideals raw and unfettered by the long list of social mores and norms and propriety and etc, etc, etc… If it’s in you, you by now know exactly what I speak of, if not, well you probably never will – aint your fault, way it is I guess.

With that out of the way, ON TO THE COMICS!!! 🙂

I came across this mini-series purely by chance while trying to find out about other comics and the cover art and concept instantly caught my imagination and I had to read it. The name is literally what the book is – no exaggeration, no confusion.
This book is a story in which some of the most iconic names in Western comics come together for one huge shoot-em-up, madhouse rumble old west-style in an adventure and confrontation worthy of the O.K. Corral – arguably the most famous gunfight in western lore, most know the movie only but it really did happen kiddies, I kid you not!

Our adventure brings together Wyatt Earp, Gunhawk, Buffalo Bill, , Billy the Kid, Kid Colt, Rawhide Kid, The Two-gun Kid, Wild Bill Hickock, Caleb Hammer, Reno Jones,The Outlaw Kid and Red Wolf and The Ghost Rider.

Some of those names will jump right at you and some may not – trust me, that cast is ALL BAD-ASS! And this here double page-splash from the first issue is a terrific shot of the whole group also giving you a quick run-down on who’s who – the characters are all excellently handled and I found it exceedingly easy to keep track of who was who and what they were doing. You really should click and see the whole spread, trust me!

Written in a fast and intense, yet strangely comfortably paced manner, Ostranders narrative flows very nicely from the early pages over the course of the entire four issues. Starting with a simple story about a town called Wonderment started way out west by post Civil War freed ex-slaves and other outsiders that is being attacked and marauded by hooded monsters – the very human and bigoted kind – for no apparent reason.
Heroes emerge and after a little searching and some quick recruitment the heroes race to make it back to the town they plan to save and hope that there is enough of it left do so! Of course there is the matter of the bandit army devastating the place and the problems of our heroes themselves.
And here we find another little key factor that other genre’s I feel have adapted from westerns. Its not exclusive, sure, but the cowboy hero was always the decent guy with a questionable moral system all his own, many kills under his belt and more then a few folks who’d like to see him six-feet-under or swinging from a rope.

In this tale Ostrander takes western story-telling back to its gritty and grimy roots – crafting an excellent tale filled with a certain historical touch, very grounded in reality and most unlike what one might expect from such a comic. People die here, good and bad. Good guys don’t always feel good and there is a stark and brutal reality to what is racing toward the characters as the story barrels forward like a bullet train, always keeping true though as if on rails!
Gone are outlandish and unrealistic tales. Here the old comics are somewhat retconned to be simply dime-novels printed about these heroes in the time preceding this story, simply fiction.
Reading this saga I kept having flashes of so many classic westerns I’ve seen, filled with characters lovable and despicable – at times in the same breath – and others who you should hate but find greater depth and sorrow within them.  There were times I half expected Clint Eastwood’s character from Unforgiven – William Munny – to be a panel away, awash in firelight telling me, “Its a hell-ofa thing, killing a man…” Classic and compelling.

Filled with very suitable art that while not perfect as some, works great for this type of saga. The dirty, raw feel of it along with the kind of palate chosen for it really brings the harshness and the reality of the story to life – I had not really known Argentinian artist Leonardo Manco prior to this but his work on this series of which he is also co-creator.

Highly recommended if you have even a passing fancy for westerns and this kind of b*lls to the walls story-telling rich with history and character – and for those that don’t really ‘get’ westerns, I would say if you have to give it a shot, this may as well be it.
Sure there may well be better stories out there, but as far as the comic medium goes, except perhaps certain issues and arcs of the just as legendary Jonah Hex in his decades long career, this is one of the finest pieces of story-telling in the genre I have come across. It is one I know for certain I will be revisiting and am glad to have found.

Oh and I strongly recommend that anyone reading this should first listen to this track to create the right feeling going inside (hey what can I say, I create mental soundtracks for everything!)

Now if’n ya don’ mind folks, Ima gonna get on ol’ dusty here and be takin’ yore leave – that there sunset looks like one fine one ti ride off into. G’day folks…