WesterNoir, in what may come as a shock, is a Western and Noir crossover comic. It’s also much more than that. WesterNoir Volume I, written by Dave West with art by Gary Crutchley, contains the first four issues of the series, originally released in black and white, and tons of new pages – all expertly colored by the aptly chosen pallet of Matt Soffe. The two principal thematic genres, Western and Noir, compliment nicely, though WesterNoir shines with the addition of something else entirely.
The Wild West still represents a popular mythos in the modern eye. The unforgiving desert, the taste of bad whiskey, the promise of riches and adventure to the brave and bold. The Frontier is the bridge between law-abiding society and a dangerous, unbridled freedom. The long arm of the law does not reach the Wild West. Instead, the John Waynes and the Clint Eastwoods enact “Frontier Justice” upon evildoers with an air of moral superiority. WesterNoir nails this from the get-go. Josiah Black, our protagonist, shoots and kills a man in the first chapter, then brings the body to the sheriff. Black goes unpunished because in killing this man he stopped other murders. It’s Frontier Justice at its best. Welcome to the West.
So where does the Noir fit in? Though difficult to define exactly, the Noir genre has some recurring aspects that feature prominently in WesterNoir. Josiah Black is an excellent traditional Noir protagonist – an alcoholic with a troubled past whose heart is in the right place. He behaves morally questionable while fighting for his perception of the greater good. Not only does this fit Noir, but it fits perfectly into with the Wild West setting. Josiah Black is a well-constructed protagonist with a mysterious backstory that I’m excited to learn more about in coming issues. The other key Noir element? A veiled conspiracy. More on that later.
West and Crutchley position WesterNoir easily in both genres, but WesterNoir doesn’t truly shine until they add the third key element: Myth and Monster. Instead of the tried and true human villains a Western audience might expect, West and Crutchley opt for a plethora of fantastical creations, and WesterNoir is all the better for it.
Each new hell-spawn facing Josiah Black poses a new and unknown threat to dispatch, often through unconventional means (though many involve well-placed rounds from Black’s six-shooter). Each opponent tests Black’s shaky resolve and his commitment to the mysterious figure that set him on this blood-soaked path. Though I admit I do enjoy Western and Noir stories, it was this novel aspect of West and Crutchley’s world that really held my attention. I forgot to take notes on my first read-through.
In Volume I, many of the stories are functional one-shots. Josiah enters a town on some form of orders and eliminates an otherworldly threat. I would probably still recommend reading WesterNoir even if that was all there was. Thankfully, there’s much more than that. Hidden beneath Josiah Black’s escapades is an unnerving mystery – what are these hell-spawn creatures? Why are they here? And why would someone employ Josiah Black to wipe them out? Each issue in Volume I adds a subtle layer of intrigue befitting of a Noir mystery story, culminating in a fitting cliff-hanger that left me hungry for Volume II. There’s another story buried deep beneath the surface of WesterNoir, and I can’t wait to find out where it goes.
In addition to the narrative, Crutchley skillfully crafts expressive characters and dynamic scenes. His viewing angles, character positioning, and willingness to use close headshots or distanced panoramas allows him to support West’s story with a familiar, almost cinematic quality. In just one page (page 38 to be exact) two characters are positioned opposite one another at an angle to show the power dynamic in their relationship (one knows more about the hidden mythological world), there is a shot of food being eaten to show how calm everyone is, two headshots for dramatic tension, and one very, very close face shot that really unnerves the reader. Each panel adds a unique emotional layer to the scene. I actually found that some of Josiah’s thought bubbles were unnecessary when the art so skillfully showed the emotional nuance.
I can’t give Crutchley all the credit, though. Originally made possible by Crutchley’s talented hand, WesterNoir was further brought to life by Matt Soffe’s coloration. In the final section of Volume I, Dave West writes about the journey to create WesterNoir, beginning with the original black and white copies and later adding Soffe to the team for color. They worried that re-releasing the black and white issues in color might bother the people who already paid for them. But in the end, the team decided to add extra pages and content to make Volume I worth buying again.
Boy am I glad they went with color. The dry tans and browns mixed with the burning orange dawns and dusks add more to the reading experience than I can put into words. After seeing it in color, I can’t imagine reading it in black and white anymore. WesterNoir is as gorgeous as it is inventive.
You can count me as a WesterNoir fan. I can’t wait to see where West, Crutchley, and Soffe take this story next.