Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Brian Schirmer
Artist: Claudia Balboni
Release Date: 9th March 2016
Black Jack Ketchum resides in a world where things are never quite that they seem to be. In issue 1, Tom Ketchum is chased down by various people believing him to be Black Jack Ketchum, his gun talks to him, faceless ‘Dusters’ chase him down for The Judge and he is accused of killing three important men: a banker, a rancher, a baron, who we watch take themselves to the gallows. Also, Tom is accompanied by a young girl, mute but definitely not your usual girl. This is the wild, wild west but definitely not the one we recognise. Oh, and Tom has a real problem recognising things, too.
Issue 2 finds Tom being made Sheriff of Snowtown (great name for a cowboy town and one that seems to exist on a different plane of reality) as a reward for ‘killing’ the 3 important men. He does a good job until one day a man he vaguely recalls burns a building down and tells Tom that they need to leave before The Judge arrives. He knows more about Tom than Tom does.
Issue 3, Tom and the arsonist, Bierce, travel to find Black Jack Ketchum and along the way fireside tales are told. Tom may well be dying and this journey is his last fantasy. He may be on a journey to reconnect with memory. One thing’s for sure, he doesn’t know any more than we do. The pair come to a cabin in the canyon, an oubliette of sorts we hope, and it is. Kind of.
Issue 4 is Tom’s reckoning. Confronted with Black Jack, actually face-to-face, guns drawn, Tom wants to get his life back. But what life? Here in the western or, curiously, in (H)ollywoodland? What the merry hell is going on? Thus ensues an existential nightmare, one in which Tom has to decide if he truly is Black Jack and whether he is ready to take that mantle.
There are more than a few “eh?” moments in this final issue; existentialism and comics don’t always make happy bedfellows. It’s like inadvertently finding yourself caught in the middle of a Christopher Nolan movie. But…Black Jack is kind of fun. It’s fun not knowing where you are, it’s fun being right with poor Tom. It’s a bit of a Pony Express ride. Brian Schirmer and Claudia Balboni clearly had a very clear vision of how they wanted this tale to be, and have accomplished it with aplomb. They knew exactly where they wanted this story to go, and in spite of it being a bit crazy (in a good way!) the story always feels like its in safe hands.
Balboni’s artwork is great too; I appreciate solid, clear lines, especially when the story touches upon the fantastical. There are some truly stunning pages here; when a train chases down Tom, when he jumps through worlds, when he meets the other characters at the cabin. I suggest you raise ‘em to Black Jack Ketchum.
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The Writer of this piece was: Hazel Hay
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