Thursday, June 11, 2009

Work Needed Doin': The Streets of Glory Review.

'Know what I'm afraid of?'
'Sir? Why. . .nothing sir. Nothing on God's earth.'
'I'm scared I fought hard for this country. Only to hand it to fools.'
-Streets of Glory.

Streets of Glory
Avatar Press
Writer: Garth Ennis
Artist: Mike Wolfer

In recent years I've found my affection for the Western genre of storytelling to have steadily grown. I can't point to any one incident or deciding factor, save for a few familial ties. My paternal grandmother loved Louis L'Amour Western novels, and over time I bought a few of my own and found them to be enjoyable(we bonded as readers over his Sacketts series of novels about a family that journeyed to the new world from Elizabethan England and spread out over the West in succeeding generations). After novels came films: Tombstone remains one of my all-time favorites, as well as films like True Grit, the Dollars Trilogy, The Wild Bunch, and The Searchers. There's just something so epic about that time on the frontier, in a violent period when men truly owned their actions and had their freedom with all the good and evil such liberty entailed. As a member of pop culture fandom I'm somewhat bemused by some of my colleagues dismissal of the genre as a whole. It may not always be pretty, but you don't have to dig very deeply with Westerns to understand that you're dealing with myth. Myth in the classical sense, often times as much gory as glorious, but still containing elements of classic heroic archetypes and themes that make for exciting stories. Contemporary science fiction sagas owe a great deal to the Western, not the least of which Star Wars (for it's outlaws, frontiers, and bounty hunters) and of late Firefly(a truly western-themed SF series if ever there was one). As a fanatic for all types of mythic influence and ideal, the appeal of the Western is not lost on me.

Streets of Glory is truly a mythic piece. It's an apocalyptic narrative if you will, a commentary on the end of the period when the West symbolized personal freedom and the potential to forge your own destiny and became just another section of civilization. Set in 1899, time is literally up. A new century dawns in which the world is moving on, moving into a period of horseless carriages and unscrupulous developers, when good men with their own rough-hewn code of honor are being pushed aside in favor of progress. It's a violent, gritty little piece that Sam Peckinpah would be proud of.

We're told the story in flashback by one Peter Lorrimer, a young man from the east brought out to the small haven of Gladback, Montanna by his older brother Frank to tend bar and earn a living. Ambushed by a gang of bandits, Frank is killed and Peter is in a bad way until his assailants are ruthlessly dispatched by one Joe Dunn, a man on his way back to Gladback to try and take stock of his life. Taking the young man into town after helping him bury his brother, Joe and Peter bond and Peter meets Tom McKinnon, owner of the bar Frank had been employed at. Tom takes Peter under his wing while Joe attempts to mend fences with his estranged love Shelly Gillibrand, the town doctor, who in the intervening years has had a daughter named Ilsa. Meanwhile a series of brutal attacks bring Joe back to his world of violence when an old enemy, a psychpathic Indian brave named Red Crow, terrorizes settlers on the outskirts of Gladback. Businessman Charles Morrison draws Joe, Peter, and Tom into his grand plans for the future of the town, and attempts to recruit them to aid his bodyguard Burley into bringing Red Crow to justice(or the grave, whichever seems most likely).

From this framework you could build a pretty decent cat and mouse story, and Ennis does. But there's more tale to tell here than a simple story of cowboys and indians. Within the pages of Streets of Glory is the story of the world that was coming and its battle with the world that was and how for one brief, brutal moment that old rough justice still held sway.

Garth Ennis is a writer whose works I find to be somewhat vexing. As a storyteller I'd have to say he's easily one of the best, particularly in the comics medium. When it comes to a lean, powerful story with brutal action and stand-up heroes against truly despicable villains, Ennis is your man. Of course his work with my favored genre of comics--superheroes--leaves a lot to be desired but within his mileu of War, Western, and Horror comics I think you'd be hard-pressed to find a better writer in the field. When he's on, he can make you laugh one moment and completely stun you the next. Glory shows him at his best, crafting a tale that could stand shoulder to shoulder with the best Western films out there. He's a deft hand with dialogue, and has a sense of timing and craft in his action sequences I wish some writers would take their cues from.

Mike Wolfer is an artist whose work I've never encountered before. It took me some time for his facial work to grow on me, but after a while I came to appreciate his deft hand. It's not always easy to bring over the West in terms of detail, but he rose to the challenge and presented a believable world that feels at once lived in and in the midst of change at the dawn of a new century. He's also a deft hand with the gore, which this book does have from time to time. Ennis doesn't shy away from showing how unbelievably violent this period in history was, and Wolfer brings that violence and its consequences to life in startling detail. This book isn't one to read while snacking, I'll say that much out front.

Simply put, Streets of Glory is a fun read that deserves a look. The reading experience is akin to catching a Western film on television on a Saturday afternoon, one from perhaps the grindhouse '70s with a fair share of action and gore but ultimately proving to be at times moving and endearing as well. While it may not be for everyone, I'd say check it out. It doesn't require knowing reams of continuity about heroes in tights and makes for an enjoyable, entertaining afternoon's read. Reccomended.


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