Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writers: Zac B. Thompson, Lonnie Nadler
Artwork: Sami Kivelä
Colours: Jason Wordie
Lettering: Hasan Otsmane-Elhaou
Release Date: 12th February 2020
Ethel Grady Lane is on a mission for revenge, having witnessed the murder of her entire family a year before in the remote Arizona town of Sweetheart. Armed with a revolver and absolutely no idea of who or how many people she’s looking for, the inspiration for her journey is a battered old Western Paperback called The Shadow of a Wanted Man.
I don’t often get to use the word metatextual in a sentence, but as Zac B. Thompson and Lonnie Nadler kindly used it in their marketing blurb I’m going to take the opportunity to abuse that privilege freely throughout this review. You have been warned.
As you might expect, Undone by Blood is very much a metatextual series, effortlessly blending the gritty revenge story that is Ethel’s quest to find her family’s murderers with the equally gritty Western story, The Shadow of a Wanted Man, which pits Sol Eaton against a gang of bandits who have kidnapped his son as revenge for their previous encounters.
While the concept of a story within a story is far from new, it’s also exceedingly difficult to pull off, and if it’s not exactly unique in the comic book industry, then it’s certainly so rare that I can’t think of a good example (and no we’re not going to discuss the Tales from the Black Freighter animated short within Zack Snyder’s Watchmen adaptation because it ain’t in the book).
Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler have been among my favourite writers for quite a while now, and I’m delighted to see that once again they’ve raised the bar with their combined creativity. As a pair, they’ve never been afraid to challenge themselves and make their lives as difficult as possible while delivering a story, and I think this is very much the secret of their success – never playing it safe and always try to push the boundaries. Telling a really good revenge story is hard. Telling a really good Western adventure is hard. Trying to tell both as separate threads within the same title is sheer lunacy, and having each story feed off the other without them becoming the same narrative… well, it will come as no surprise that Thompson and Nadler manage to do all of this effortlessly.
Set in the early ‘70s, Ethel’s story is gritty and dirty. She isn’t a great gunslinger, fighter or detective, she has no idea what she’s doing, who to trust or even who she’s looking for. But she is determined, knows her flaws, and will not stop until she puts a bullet in each and every person responsible for her family’s death. The façade that she displays is of the kind of person who if you cross them you’d better kill them because you can be sure they will drag their bloodied broken body across ten miles of broken glass to put you in the ground if you don’t. There is, however, a naïve and fragile side to Ethel that is shown in her first clumsy encounter in the local bar that leaves her beaten, robbed and ultimately locked up in the local jail. It’s going to be interesting to see her journey throughout this series and whether she can actually become the part she is playing.
By contrast, Sol Eaton is a hard man who has earned his reputation through a lifetime of hardship on the plains, hunting bandits and bringing them to justice one way or another. This is a Sergio Leone Western; the ageing gunslinger’s past coming back to haunt him; the lone warrior facing insurmountable odds to bring back his family or die trying. His wife’s admonition not to come back without their son is responded to with a very matter of fact “There’d be no sense in it”.
Sol is also a practical man with instincts and reflexes so automatic that even when sleeping and ambushed he manages to have the better of half a dozen men. Honestly, I would read this if it were a standalone comic and I’m not typically a huge follower of the Western genre. There is just something about this story that grabbed me from the first page and, as with Ethel’s story, I’m really looking forward to seeing how it develops.
Sami Kivelä and Jason Wordie have done a fantastic job on the visual side of this issue. Ethel’s story has the look and feel of a ‘70s revenge thriller, while Sol’s story has the texture of a pulp novel and the look of a Spaghetti Western. I love the character design, too. Sol Eaton has Clint Eastwood’s sneer, Lee Van Cleef’s icy stare, and Gregory Peck’s chin. I really don’t have a comparison for Ethel, as she’s so unlike any typical ‘70s female protagonist I can think of. She’s a little bit Tank Girl, she’s a bit Camille Keaton, a bit Kim Darby, but not any single one of them and mostly something completely different. It’s impressive that the creative team has managed to convey both stories so clearly and separately, and so very perfectly in the style of what they are. This is the ‘70s revenge thriller style and the Western revenge style, and there is no doubt whatsoever about what you’re about to read.
Just because I haven’t said it in a while, this is metatextual, it’s incredibly ambitious, and if this issue is anything to go by it’s going to be a staggering success. Another blindingly good first issue from all involved and I absolutely cannot wait to see what happens next.
[PREVIEW ARTWORK – CLICK TO ENLARGE]
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek