Publisher: Image Comics
Story By: Brian Schirmer
Art By: Claudia Balboni
Release Date: 10th February, 2016
The story of titular character ‘Black Jack Ketchum’ is based on real-life outlaw and train robber Thomas E Ketchum, known as ‘Black Jack’. In 1901, in New Mexico, he was the only man to be hanged for an assault upon a railway train before this particular sentence was deemed unconstitutional under the law. This factual basis is very much ingrained within the metaphorical message of the comic: legend is power.
In the previous two issues Tom Ketchum has evaded capture from the Union, led by a mysterious hooded figure known only as the Judge, and her henchmen, Dusters, who seem to be made up of the very fabric of the Universe under their cloaks. During this time he has continually refuted claims that he is the infamous ‘Black Jack’ as he travels further into the layered storyline, apparently traveling through physical and psychological time and dimensions as he questions his sanity and existence.
In the third instalment of the series, Ketchum’s alter ego is even more pronounced; a tale about a dying man’s dream of escaping capital punishment at the last moment to return to his family, only to realise that the scenario was in his head, is a poignant reference to mortality, legacy and existential angst.
Brian Schirmer’s writing is wonderfully detailed, with individual inflections in the dialogue of the many characters to provide variety and realism. Though convoluted and potentially confusing for the audience, this is a clever and complicated story that invites further readings. When added to the visuals, it makes for a mesmerising tale that takes inspiration from the dreamlike, surrealist films of Alejandro Jodorowsky and David Lynch. Claudia Balboni’s clean lines and block colours create an illusory and ethereal version of the Old West.
A tale of mortality set against an elaborately woven world of immortal power and notoriety, this is an intricate and intelligent commentary on life vs. legend.
The writer of this piece was: Rebecca Booth
Rebecca Tweets from @rebeccalbooth