Tuesday, 20 September 2011

‘Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities Volume 2: The Ghastly Fiend of London’ – Eric Powell & Kyle Hotz (Dark Horse)

For all the comic book readers here, have you ever faced that dilemma where the trades aren’t coming out quickly enough for you so you end up buying the single issues while you wait for the trade? When the trade finally comes out you have to decide whether to buy that as well or stick with what you have... I can withstand the temptation as far as ‘The Walking Dead’ goes but Eric Powell’s ‘The Goon’ has become one of those comics for me. The cost of single issues mounts up but I can’t wait months for the trade...

I suspect this fight will continue for a while longer yet but the obvious way to get my ‘Powell fix’ has been to see what else there is of his out there that will tide me over in the meantime. The answer is, ‘more than I thought’... Enter one Billy the Kid and his Old Timey Oddities; just as irreverent as ‘The Goon’ but perhaps just a little bit darker, I’m not sure. There’s another volume out there somewhere and I’ll have to get my hands on it if this one was anything to go by, ‘Billy the Kid’ (and the forthcoming ‘Chimichanga’) should be more than enough to keep me going until ‘The Goon’ makes an appearance in trade once again.

Did you think that the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid was killed by Pat Garrett? I did. Turns out we were all wrong. Billy the Kid actually faked his death and then managed to find himself being the hired gun for a ‘Travelling Spectacle of Biological Curiosities’, or a ‘Freakshow’ as Billy puts it. Since then, Billy and his charges have had to confront a series of supernatural horrors but when an old friend summons them to London, things are about to get a lot worse. Jack the Ripper strikes from the shadows and women die, is he another ‘Freak’ though? Billy must end the killings quickly otherwise many innocent people will die...

If there’s one thing that’s better than an Eric Powell story, it’s an Eric Powell story where Kyle Hotz provides the artwork. My two favourite things about comics, crammed into one book and left to raise hell on the page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the art that Powell has given us over the course of ‘The Goon’ (it just gets better as the series progresses and some of the art for the ‘Buzzard’ mini-series is just incredible) but if you’re after someone who can really capture people at their absolute nastiest and most bitter... You need Kyle Hotz on your team.

Hotz totally plumbed the depths of humanity in ‘Zombie’ and ‘The Zombie Simon Garth’ and his artwork is totally suited for the most rotten and sinister parts of Victorian London. He really captures that sense of evil lurking in the fog as well as the nightmarish living conditions that a certain class of Londoner must have had to deal with back then. If that wasn’t enough for you, wait until you see how Hotz depicts the Elephant Man... Absolutely superb stuff and you can’t help but feel sorry for Joseph Merrick as well as a little heartened at how he deals with his condition.

Kyle Hotz’ art was the highlight of the book for me but Eric Powell comes very close with his storytelling, both in ‘The Pit of Horrors’ (from the ‘Buzzard’ mini-series) and in ‘The Ghastly Fiend of London’ itself. We’re looking at straight horror here, with a hint of pulp, rather than the weird (slightly comedic) horror that ‘The Goon’ does so well. Because of this, I got the impression that Powell didn’t feel as free to really go for it and come out with the weird stuff. Maybe it’s just me but the sense of being unsettled wasn’t there so much this time round. A lot happens which will make you go ‘what the...’ but it won’t stay in your head nearly as long afterwards. 

Don’t let that put you off though. Both ‘The Pit of Horrors’ and ‘The Ghastly Fiend of London’ are worth your time; I certainly got a lot out of them. ‘The Pit of Horrors’ is a nice exercise in suspense with a climax that tears along at a furious rate, dragging you along with it. ‘The Ghastly Fiend of London’ poses an intriguing question and answers it in such a way that you have to pay real attention to both the dialogue and the artwork if you’re going to stand any chance of puzzling it out. I didn’t and the ending was a real surprise; well executed, fast and extremely bloody.
I wouldn’t have minded finding out a little more about Billy the Kid himself, a character whom the whole thing hangs off, but I have a feeling that there will be another volume coming along and perhaps we’ll find out more then.

‘Billy the Kid’ is perhaps a case of Powell taking a step outside his comfort zone and the results are predictably mixed. It’s still a very entertaining read though and Kyle Hotz’ artwork is worth the price of entry on its own. I’ll be looking out for the first volume.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

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