Gunplay #0, March 2008, Platinum Studios
writer: Jorge Vega
artist: Dominic Vivona
colorist: Nei Ruffino
letterer: Shawn DePasquale
“Penny Dreadful” story writer: Priest
“Penny Dreadful” story illustrator: Keith Mellon
editor: Dave Collins
Since the Jonah Hex trailer went live today, let's look at a western comic: Gunplay #0. This issue, featuring material that won the 2007 Comic Book Challenge, is an interesting zero issue offer, because it isn’t a prologue to an upcoming ongoing series; instead, Gunplay #0 is a preview edition that (presumably) reprints the first twenty-two pages of an eighty-eight page graphic novel. It’s a daring gamble, selling content that will be available again later, in its entirety to boot, yet, for only a dollar, readers have a chance to see if Gunplay is an investment they’d want to make in the first place. In an analogy suiting this issue’s story, it’s a high noon callout, and Gunplay is daring us to join it in the street in front of the saloon.
Ah, but if you were looking for happy-go-lucky western fare, Gunplay is not the book for you. Inside of just these twenty-two pages, the reader is faced with the bitter truths of slavery and racism, the merciless, hands-on violence of a pre-industrial age, and the perversion of religion. I can only wonder what the remaining sixty-six pages of this graphic novel have to offer. Despite its callousness, Gunplay #0 is an thought provoking reading experience, not to mention a steal at a measly ninety-nine cents, considering that the lead 22-pager is followed by the first three chapters of a short fiction western piece by Priest and Keith Mellon. Both stories boast the same crude themes and engrossing violence and offer a no-holds-barred insight into how wild the west really was.
Unfortunately, this issue did take a few liberties in its presentation that distracted me from its content. Namely, on the first page, our hero, a black Union soldier forced to roam the countryside with a supernatural gun, mutters something to himself, evidenced by a speech balloon with tiny lettering, probably a two-scale font. You can tell that it says something, so I strained my eyes to make it out, and read, “This font is so small we can’t make out what he’s saying.” Now, why even have the speech balloon if I’m going to feel like a fool squinting to read it, or, if what he mumbles is actually important to the story down the line, why not just imply speech with some traditional squiggly lines? This unnecessary blurring of the fourth wall took me out of the story before it’d begun, and only the shock value of the following pages’ violence sucked me back in. It was an unnecessary rollercoaster ride.
So, will I step out into the high noon sun for a showdown with the Gunplay graphic novel? Honestly, I don’t think so. I’m not familiar enough with the wild west genre to actually embrace it for what it really is -- a crude game of life and death in the shadow of our country’s developing moral compass. You’re more likely to see me cowering behind the swinging saloon doors, seeing who comes out standing. Yes, holding true to the analogy, I might just wait to read some reviews of the whole thing before I use this #0 to gauge my interest. Leave it to a comic book to give the call to draw.