Friday, December 29, 2006

Lone #1

Lone #1, September 2003, Dark Horse Comics
writer: Stuart Moore
artist: Jerome Opena
colorist: Michelle Madsen
letterer: Sno Cone

My girlfriend and I started our penultimate day in Prescott, Arizona, where we spent last night enjoying a light snowfall and the warm, sweet treats popped, baked, and brewed on their historical Whiskey Row. Strolling the streets of historical downtown Prescott, I marveled at its architecture, seemingly unchanged since the necessary renovations following the fire of 1900. We ate in a restaurant that boasted charred bricks from the devastation, with over one hundred years of American legacy etched into its seams, and we walked past a saloon with a placard proudly proclaiming its opening year, 1897. I could imagine the stories that simmer beneath those paved roads, when the town was a veritable character in a Clint Eastwood movie. I picture the Hill Valley of Back to the Future III, probably because I just caught part of the flick on TBS a few days ago, but you catch my drift.

Lone takes places in a similar western frontier, not in the past, but rather in the future. Like more than a few comic books I've reviewed in this forum, Lone features a barren, post-war America, in which zombies roam and ravage surviving towns with slow but merciless precision, adding more to their undead ranks. In this first issue, Luke, perhaps the best shot left in the West, and her brother embark on a journey at their mother's behest for Lone, a legendary bounty hunter whose skills may hold the secret to their townfolks' survival. In typical recluse fashion, Lone initially refuses to help the kids, but when zombies breech his radiated home and suggest that they know a secret from Lone's past, the mercenary inexplicably offers to exchange his help for Luke's town's old newspapers. The question is, is Lone really interested in the history of print media, or is he trying to cover his tracks once and for all?

Lone is an attractive package, boasting the attractive work of Russ Manning Award-winning artist Jerome Opena. I know Jerome Opena won the Russ Manning Award because his success is credited above the title on the cover and three times on the letters page, which was probably two times too many. Still, Opena's visuals are beautiful capturing the Wild West-like wasteland of the post-war American landscape, the vile reality of the apocalyptic era's zombies and mutants, and most importantly the expressive dynamics of the story's characters. Lone is a powerful figure, but his gaunt frame reveals a vulnerability, not so much in his physical prowess, but symbolically, brewing beneath the surface, like the very land upon which he resides. Moore's mythology is built on a simple premise: an unnatural return of the days of cowboys, with a zombie twist. With books like Loveless and Marvel's zombie titles flying off the shelves this year, I wonder if Lone set the stage for their success. Based on this premiere effort, the book certainly stands on its own, its title indicative of its place on the shelves. Lone is one of a kind.

Thinking about my experience in Prescott, incorporating zombies into a post-modern western isn't too farfetched, as I explored the historical downtown with eyes that felt like they were gazing upon a city thriving despite its past. In the whole of the heart of Prescott, my girlfriend and I did not see a Starbucks, and although I'm sure one was hidden somewhere, its absence retained a dignity for those few square blocks that other cities Prescott's age have lost. In fact, a local art shop sold stickers mocking the Starbucks logo, with a Day of the Dead figure in the center of a green circle boasting "Starbones." Therein, I guess Prescott resonates the opposite of the Lone concept; the old town is still stumbling forth, vital in its old age, the cities beneath it lifeless in their concrete symmetry.

Speaking of art, Prescott offered an interesting interlude that bares some relevance to this project and much excitement to my bumbling fanboyishness. My girlfriend and I strolled into an art gallery co-op in the historic downtown, where I instantly recognized a small part of the exhibit displaying the work of Bret Blevins. Blevins illustrated The Legends of the Dark Knight #50, which I reviewed some months ago and has brought a number of hits to this site. Personally, Blevins also pencilled the first several Cloak & Dagger installments of the '80s' Strange Tales, which were included in the box of comics my dad acquired for me in my youth, and which sparked my passion for collecting. (Read my review of Savage Dragon #0 for the whole story.) Blevins lives in the Prescott area, and although he wasn't in the gallery during my first visit, he was there when I looked in again this morning, and he was nice enough to sketch my favorite mutant misadventurers with plenty of care, absolutely free. Blevins was a real gentleman, nice enough to chat while he meticulously sketched, recreating an image that could've been ripped from those old issues that inspired my fanaticism for Cloak, Dagger, and comics in general. When I'm back in California and at my scanner, I'll post the sketch in all of its glory. The encounter was as strange and unexpected as those tales, but a wonderful supplement to my near-complete Cloak & Dagger collection. Goes to show just that the West is still full of surprises . . .

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