Sunday, 4 October 2009

The Kents #2

Bleeding Kansas Part 2

John Ostrander
Penciller: Tim Truman
Inker: Michael Bair
Letters: Oakley/N.J.Q. (Bill Oakley)
Colors: Carla Feeny
Color Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: September 1997
Release Date: 02/07/1997

Luther and Sheriff Jones arrest Jeb for threatening Luther's life. The posse is confronted by Nate at a ford, where Jeb is freed from custody. In December 1855, Jones returns with a larger group of men, who lay siege to Lawrence. The town is defended not only by its inhabitants, but John Brown and his men, and reinforcements from the nearby Indian tribes. A decision is taken to send three men, led by Nate, to break through the barricade and attempt to pleas with Governor Shannon for assistance. Although Jeb is told to stay behind, he gatecrashes the midnight expedition, racing off directly towards the enemy encampment on horseback. The noise rouses the attackers, who kill one of the men and give chase to the Kents. Although they are able to shake off the pursuit, Jeb can only see the glory of the ride, and is knocked out in anger by Nate, who drags his brother back to town. Word manages to get through to the Governor, who breaks up the siege.

In March 1856, Nate and Jeb's mother dies, and in accordance with her last wishes, Nate travels with her body from Boston to Lawrence. Along his journey, he teams up with Wild Bill Hickok to break through a pro-slavery protest led by Luther.

A month later and Nate prepares to leave for Washington to present a petition asking for Kansas to be granted Free Statehood. Angered at being left behind again, Jeb strikes out at Nate. In Washington, the delegation is snubbed by President Pearce, who turns down their petition. Later that evening, word arrives from Jeb - Jones and Luther have once again laid siege to the town, with far greater numbers than ever before. Fearing a massacre, Nate rides for home.

The second issue of this historical Western ups the ante for this series in three different ways. The political stakes are raised, with the refusal of Pearce to support the abolitionists. The physical stakes are raised, as Jones and Luther keep returning to Lawrence with more men and more advanced weaponry. And the emotional stakes are raised, as the first signs of dissent between the brothers Kent start to show.

The seeds of Jeb's character planted in the first issue start to show in the second. Devoid of parental influence, his strong-mindedness and inquisitiveness turns to brash, unthinking arrogance, shown in his mad ride through the siege camps and the tragic death of one of his comrades, unnoticed by the younger Kent. At this point, Jeb is humble and scared enough to call for his brother's support at the end of the issue, an action he wouldn't have taken if the siege had happened in later issues.

This issue also sees the introduction of the series most prominent historical supporting character, 'Wild Bill' Hickok. Hickok is certainly an interesting addition to the title. Well known in his lifetime, after his death tales of his exploits achieved near legendary status through fictionalisations of his life including many TV series and films, as well as through his own embellishments. Hickok was also a prominent feature of 'dime novels', early serialised adventure magazines, which some have described as proto-comic books. In contrast to my views expressed in the previous post, where I suggested that Hickok's inclusion was uncomfortable and unnecessary, having further researched his character I find him a wholly suitable character to be added to this book. Considering how many of his exploits have been fictionalised, it seems appropriate that he should appear in a fictional account of real world events.

Although it could appear that constant besieging of Lawrence shows a repetitive plot, the escalation of each encounter, both in terms of the numbers besieging and the desperation of the defenders, culminating in the final siege taking place whilst most key members of Lawrence's community are halfway across the country, means that this cycle will be broken soon, propelling the book into a new direction.

Truman's art continues to impress. His subtle aging and degradation of characters work well, with the rabble-rousing Luther, face covered in shadow, presented as an almost demonic force, despite the absence of any supernatural elements in the book. Special mention must got to letterer Bill Oakley, who skillfully provides numerous cursive fonts throughout the series, breaking up the different narrations clearly and visually.

As before, this book is strong enough to stand on its own feet without the 'S' shield on the cover, or the intrusive Clark and Lois interruptions to the plot.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-orders: 38,321 (-8,149)
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 69
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #347

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