Today, Taylor and Drew are discussing 1872 3, originally released September 23rd, 2015.
Taylor: We just can’t seem to leave the Wild West, can we? Throughout the entire 20th century and well into the 21st the Western has endured in books, movies, TV shows, and of course comics. I guess there’s just something appealing about a world where there is no law except for the gun you hold in your hand. We all know for the most part these portrayals of the Old West are pretty inaccurate. It was neither as exciting or dangerous as one would have you believe. However, that hasn’t stopped artists from visiting a world we just can’t get enough of. Now into its third issue, I think it’s fair to judge whether 1872 is a version of the West we want to visit again and again, or one we let hit the ol’ dusty trail.
Now that Sheriff Steve Rogers is dead, it’s up to Widow Natasha Barnes and Red Wolf to destroy Roxxon’s dam and avenge Steve. Along the way they pick up Dr. Banner who agrees to help them blow up the dam with the help of some fancy green explosive liquid. He and Natasha show up for the dam but they are soon discovered and captured. Meanwhile in town, Red Wolf goes on a vengeful killing spree but soon runs into trouble when he runs out of bullets. In a pinch, Tony Stark appears in a steam powered iron suit to save the day. But is he too late?
Like a lot of comic book fans, I love alternate universes. I never get tired of asking the question “what if so-and-so were so-and-so.” In the case of 1872, the question is “what if the avengers were alive during the Wild West?” The answer to that question is a damn lot of fun but it could have easily been different. After arranging the pieces of his alternate world in the first two issues, writer Gerry Duggan unleashes an action packed third that has me wanting more.
This being an action heavy issue, a lot of my attention naturally fell upon Nik Virella’s artwork. Throughout the issue Virella puts a fresh spin on the Western which makes the action feel alive and new. This isn’t your Western full of showdowns at noon. This is in your face action, literally. Take for example the camera angles he chooses when Red Claw is ambushing our antagonists in the hotel.
We’re seeing the action straight from Red Wolf’s eyes and that makes this scene super exciting. Not only do we see him shooting someone, but we are also totally unaware of anything else that’s happening in the scene. This makes the next panel, where he dead-eye shoots a guy through a door all the more fun because we never saw it coming, but Red Wolf did. I guess it just goes to show that there’s more to fighting than what you see!
Virella uses this same technique later in the issue only she reverses the scenario. When Tony Stark dons his iron suit, he makes quick work of the riff-raff, including this poor sucker.
Once again we are in someone else’s body. Only this time instead of killing, they’re the ones being killed. Virella makes this a fun panel with big “boom” sound effect lumbering across the page, but what takes it over the top are the hands up to protect the face. It’s reminiscent of first-person-shooter games and it borrows the best part of this gaming experience. That is, it puts you in the action. In this way, I’m the one being ambushed by Tony Stark and frankly that’s just a whole mess of fun, even if I end up a little crispy.
Even the few quiet moments of this issue were fun to read. When Bruce is describing his plan to blow up the dam to Natasha, he holds up a jar of the green explosive to his face.
This is wonderful foreshadowing written in by Duggan and illustrated by Virella. We all know at some point Banner is going to become the Hulk and as soon as I saw the green liquid he created I knew exactly how that would come about. But speaking of this panel specifically, I just love the half/half face here. One side Banner, the other Hulk. Not only does this allude to Banner’s fate, but it speaks volumes about the man (or two men) he is about to become. It’s also a little sad as well. The very thing he created to help others ends up hurting him the most.
All of this considered I feel like 1872 is a fresh enough take on the Western to warrant further exploration. It has killer action and artwork and in so many ways is just really enjoyable to read. Drew, did you enjoy it as much as I did? I couldn’t help but think of All-Star Western while reading this and that makes me think maybe I’m just a sucker for Westerns. What do you think? Is this a good Western or simply a good comic?
Drew: I’d say all of the above. While a lot of other Secret Wars titles have gotten bogged down in the ins and outs of establishing a slightly tweaked reality (or, more specifically, a slightly tweaked moment from Marvel’s history), this series managed to cut out a lot of exposition simply by tapping into another genre. That is to say, Duggan isn’t tweaking what we know about these characters by putting them in a different situation; he’s reinforcing what we know about them by using archetypes from the Western. This reinforcement doubly asserts these characters — Wilson Fisk isn’t just a criminal Kingpin, but is also the corrupt Mayor of a small town; Black Widow isn’t just an assassin trying to do right, she’s also a widow bent on avenging her dead husband; Bullseye isn’t just a sharpshooting assassin, he’s also the fastest gun in the west — giving us two reference points rooted in two genres that work together to paint a specific (and potent) portrait of these characters.
The fascinating part, though, is that neither element could really work alone. As I mentioned earlier, the double-meaning makes this take on the Marvel Universe unique amongst Secret Wars — it needs the Western archetypes to make it sing — but the Western elements also gain a great deal from our familiarity with these characters. Tony’s arrival in a steampunk Iron-Man suit was inevitable, which lent all of his previous appearances (and especially his resolution to build something at the end of last issue) a level of dramatic irony.
Other Secret Wars titles have dabbled in this kind of dramatic irony, but none have a meaningful reference frame beyond “pre-Hulk Bruce Banner” — the characters don’t have any meaning other than that dramatic irony. Here, a meek apothecary or a gunsmith drinking away his own guilt have meaning beyond the arcs we can anticipate for them. They’re familiar as Western characters even before they’re recognizable as Marvel characters, which gives their eventual transformation an extra jolt of excitement.
Indeed, because of that dual-meaning, we can appreciate characters that likely won’t ever transform into the superheroes we expect them to be. Westerns are full of tough women who can hold their own in a fight, so why wouldn’t one of them be named Carol Danvers?
Or, perhaps more importantly, who else would prove to be such a beloved leader of a loyal group of women? This is the Carol Corps of the old west, and of course they’re taking up the cause of suffrage. (Interestingly enough, women’s suffrage in the US actually made its earliest gains in the west — Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, and Colorado were the first states to allow women to vote. I had somehow gotten the impression that suffrage was primarily a concern of educated urbanites, but this comic actually taught me a little something (or at least inspired me to do a little research).)
The point is, with the genre trappings of both Westerns and Superheroes reinforcing who these characters are, we get a doubly-exaggerated white hat vs. black hat story. In any other genres, that might read as a little too on-the-nose, but both Westerns and Superhero stories benefit from straightforward morality — this is really all about how our heroes overcome impossible odds to beat the bad guys. I think those genres can also give us a clue as to how this series may wrap up, but I’ll gladly sacrifice surprises for a series this fun. I can’t wait to read issue 4.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?