In the past, I’ve spent quite a bit of time singing the praises of The Sixth Gun. This supernatural Western series from Oni Press, written by Cullen Bunn and drawn by Brian Hurtt, was one of the best new comics of 2010. The first storyline, “Cold Dead Fingers”, was a pulpy rollercoaster ride that served as the perfect antidote to the “deconstruction” of many contemporary comics, with more packed into each single issue than you’ll find in 6 issues of many Marvel titles. The second arc, “Crossroads”, showed an impressive change of pace, Bunn demonstrating that he was equally adept at the slow boil in a more horror-tinged tale seeped with atmosphere that showcased a steadily escalating sense of dread. And all the while, as each issue provided a full and satisfying reading experience in its own right, the overarching mythology of the series continued to be built upon and the characters continued to be developed. Now, as The Sixth Gun enters its second year, can it maintain the high quality?
Unfortunately, it would seem that The Sixth Gun #13 and this current arc, “Bound”, aren’t quite up to the level of what has come before. This is something I’ve never had to say about a chapter of this series before… but it was a very quick read. One of the things I’ve loved about The Sixth Gun thus far is it felt like every issue took us to some new and exciting place or situation. But the entire body of this issue is just a continuation of the fight that began last issue. And while the comic normally gives us gasping cliffhangers, this time round I literally turned the page to make sure there wasn’t more story I was missing, because the issue just ends, practically mid-conversation. “Is that it?” is not my normal reaction to reading an issue of The Sixth Gun.
However, I don’t want to come down too hard on Cullen Bunn, as there is plenty he does right. One of his biggest strengths with his work on this title has been his ability to continually add strange and interesting new characters to the mix, effortlessly building on his ensemble and making even bit-part players and single-service heavies feel rounded and compelling enough that they might be featured stars of extensive sagas in some lost world. That trend continues this issue, with the further development of last issue’s new arrivals: sinister necromancer Eli Barlow, and Asher Cobb, a hulking mummy who may have more complex motivations and connections to the history of the narrative than we first believed.
Bunn also continues to do well with his established central cast, particularly our enigmatic protagonist Drake Sinclair, whose development takes a surprising turn here. The final page may not have been a cliffhanger, but my anticipation over finding out what comes next for Drake will be more than enough to bring me back for issue #14.
One area where this issue certainly isn’t lacking is the visuals. The action setpiece that dominates the issue revolves around zombies (and the aformentioned mummy) laying siege to a train, in a monster-mash homage to the classic “train robbery” setpiece of many a classic Western tale. And the illustrations of Brian Hurtt, combined with the lush colors of Bill Crabtree, perfectly bring this to life. Hurtt’s panel layouts emulate the sense of rapid movement one might get in a runaway train, with his cramped panel layouts suggesting the confined space of a train carriage. The visuals put us right in the heart of the drama.
This may not be one of the better issues of The Sixth Gun, but even a weaker instalment of this excellent series is better than much of the comics on the market. And I’ve built up enough faith in Cullen Bunn’s storytelling abilities to feel confident that, in the end, “Bound” will all come together just as nicely as “Cold Dead Fingers” and “Crossroads”, and The Sixth Gun will continue to excel in its second year.