Sunday, September 21, 2008

Outlaw Nation

Right up front, let me say, old school Vertigo fans should just stop reading and buy this book. It's 456 pages for $15.99, and is written and drawn in the manner of the earliest Vertigo titles. If any of that sounds appealing, this book was custom made to your tastes, and offers the complete series in one volume. The only things missing are color and Glenn Fabry's original covers, which would have just jacked up the price.

Having said that, and noted that I was pleased with what I read, goddamn if this book isn't superfluous. "Outlaw Nation" is to "Preacher" as "The Dreaming" was to "The Sandman." On the surface, they're continuations, but without any genius spark to speak of. They're the seasons after the show jumps the shark, limping along to inevitable cancellation, not so much bad as just terribly pale by comparison.

In his introduction, writer Jamie Delano mentions the series' original title was "The Great Satan," and was inspired by "Johnsons;" hobos, thieves and outlaws of the 19th century. Sounds cool, right? Barely relates to the series. Instead, the focus is on Story Johnson, a inexplicably long-lived gonzo writer who spent the last quarter of the 20th Century shacked up in Vietnam drafting his magnum opus. He writes his ladyfriend out, burns his manuscript, and returns to the States to see what he's missed. These include Story's old flame, his bastard son investigating his ties to semi-immortal subversive kin, the boy's knocked-up girlfriend, and the dirty business the bad half of his family have gotten up to. From these springboards come one long, meandering road trip.

Where "Preacher" was driven by conspiracies and Jesse Custard's convictions, "Outlaw Nation" is merely labored. Story is constantly pursued by his evil kin, who are evil for no particular reason, and want Story only because it drives the series. Officially, it's because the paterfamilias, Asa Johnson, wants to see Story write the Great American Novel. Meanwhile, Story has given up the craft, and is trying to coast through life as best as possible. The series begins in a metatextual place, and never leaves. It's like DC/Vertigo is the evil empire demanding Jamie Delano write a "Preacher" knock-off every month, while Delano is the author who refuses to write anything substantial, riding past glories while going through the motions with minimal involvement. There's a Saint of Killers, but he mostly just struts. Herr Starr is here, in the form of deviant albino Kid Gloves, but he disappears for long stretches of time and is ridiculously overplayed. Story has a couple of Tulips, but an epic romance this is not. Things happen, and the things that happen find a resolution sooner or later in a roundabout way. It's inarguably competent, and a pleasant diversion, but serves no higher purpose than middling pastime. "The Great Satan," this is not.

The art for the first half of the book is provided by Goran Sudžuka, a queer hybrid of Bryan Talbot, Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod. In the latter half, Sudžuka inks over Goran Parlov, the result resembling Will Rosado. The storytelling is clear and sound, complimenting the scripts well. I again must say, my reading experience was entirely pleasant, but I can't recommend the book without plentiful caveat. Little is explained, and the series is resolved through deus ex machina. The lower your expectations, the better I feel you'll come out of the experience.

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