Thursday, April 5, 2007

Texas Strangers

Texas Strangers by Antony Johnston, Dan Evans III, and Mario Boon (Image)

I’m easily bored by Westerns (except for The Three Amigos and anything with or by Clint Eastwood) so I wasn’t expecting much here, but dang if I didn’t really enjoy this tale of the Old West. Well, it’s not exactly the Old West you might be used to, what with the native elves, Scottish orcs, and brawls fought with spells as well as guns. I’ve seen Western Mystery (Tony Hillerman’s novels) and Western Sci-Fi (Serenity) but this is the first Western Fantasy, or Magical Western, I’ve come across. It seems like such a no-brainer, I’m really surprised it hasn’t been done before (or maybe it has – I’m sure the highly knowledgeable Newsarama readers can correct me.)

In the world of Texas Strangers the United States of America extends west to the Mississippi and north to the Great Lakes, while the native elves control the remainder of the continent to the north and west. The French have set up a monarchy in the south and Mexico belongs to the Azteca and the Orcs. The Free Nation of Texas, smack dab in the middle of all of them, is policed by the magical lawmen known as The Texas Rangers, but most folks call them The Texas Strangers.

The story revolves around red-headed brother and sister Wyatt and Madera (I think they’re twins) and a mysterious knife which must be returned to its place of origin. This quest is complicated, however, by Black Bart and his gang of outlaws. The seeds of the tale are fairly standard western fare, complete with saloon poker games, a gang of mustachioed bad guys, and a wonderfully prototypical lawman named Rick Blackwood, but when magic is mixed in the story rises to another level. The intertwining of the two genres is done so seamlessly that a native elf casting a Wild Tornado spell in a saloon brawl seems like the most natural thing in the world.

I found myself caught up in the story right away and didn’t look up from the page until I had finished the issue. The art is clear and easy to follow while conveying a wonderful sense of adventure and the color palette captures the dusty feeling of the desert but is bright and fun at the same time. The story is well told and the first issue ends in a suitably breathtaking cliffhanger. The girls really had a hard time following some of the story, and I think that’s due to some of the vocabulary – mercenary, nexus, and commune are a bit over their heads.

Sarah says: I was confused in the story because all of it went by so quickly and you have to remember a lot of stuff. After my mom helped me try and figure it out I understood it, but I couldn’t do it by myself. I liked the elf that talks like Yoda and the Scottish Orc. I like the horse that has diamonds on its butt because it looks cool. I like the magic part better than the western part because I don’t really like cowboy stuff. I want to read the next one because I want to find out what happens to “What” (Wyatt). It wasn’t that violent, but some little kids might be scared and might not understand it.

Shelby says: I didn’t really understand some of it but I liked the art. It is interesting because it’s just a few lines for the characters but the backgrounds have a lot of shading. I like the idea of magic and cowboys and Indians because western stuff isn’t very interesting to me but the magic helps it. I’m not sure I like the saloon and gambling situations because gambling and drinking isn’t very good for kids. I liked the brother and sister and I like that there’s an orc that’s Scottish and one with a sombrero – that’s funny. Kids won’t understand what the elves are talking about because they’re speaking isn’t in kid talk – kids will say, “Run tracks to Hope to what?” because they won’t know what the heck that means. There wasn’t a single mention of “Yippee-kay-ay” though, so how can it be a western?

Texas Strangers is most definitely a western, so there is gun play and someone is very clearly shot (though I seriously doubt he will die). The magical knife, which plays a central role in the story, seems to turn Madera into a vicious killer when it touches blood, though the short, four-panel sequence depicting this is handled in such a way that it isn’t frightening, even with a close-up on the bloody knife. There are also references to whiskey and poker. I’d say it’s appropriate for ages eight and up, as long as the violence isn’t a problem for the adults. Kids will love Texas Strangers, but you never know how parents are going to react.

Read a preview of Texas Strangers and visit the Texas Strangers blog for character bios and previews.


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