Sunday, 25 October 2009

The Kents #4

Bleeding Kansas Part 4

Writer: John Ostrander
Penciller: Tim Truman
Inker: Michael Bair
Letters: Oakley/NJQ (Bill Oakley)
Colours: Carla Feeny
Colour Separations: Digital Chameleon
Editor: Peter Tomasi
Cover Art: Timothy Truman
Cover Date: November 1997
Release Date: 03/09/1997

Stung by the words of Jeb, Nate decides to reach out and get to know the people he is fighting for. He seeks out a family of freed slaves, the Freemans, who make their living as farmers. Despite some initial tensions on the part of Tobias and Sarah Freeman, they bond when Jeb asks for Tobias to teach him how to tend the land.

Later that year, elections are once again held. Although there is no direct conflict this time, ballot-stuffing is rife. Governor Walker disqualifies many candidates, including Sherriff, and is himself relieved of his position by President Buchanan.

Tensions are relieved somewhat in the spring of 1858, when gold is discovered at Pike's Peak, sparking the Colorado Gold Rush. Nate and Jeb's relationship continues to deteriorate. An argument over Mary Glenowen, who Wild Bill Hickok is starting to lose his affections for, leads to Nate hitting his brother, and Jeb pulling a gun, promising to lose it next time.

Nate continues to ride with Quantrill and his men, who now include Luther. The group have started killing Free State supporters in acts of guerilla warfare. but Jeb abstains from firing his gun. Wild Bill breaks up with Mary over issues of her half-Indian heritage, and rides off. As Nate comforts Mary, he confesses his love for her. She cannot reciprocate his feelings so soon, and the two part.

Over the next year, tensions start to rise again, spurred on by John Brown's actions, stealing slaves from Missourian farms and delivering them to freedom. He is eventually caught after a period of hiding, and hung.

The summer of 1860 sees a drought blight Kansas, causing further hardship. One day, while Nate is teaching the Freemans' son, Josh, to read, Quantrill and his gang, including Jeb, ride up to forcibly enslave the family. When Nate defends the Freemans, Jeb shoots him in the back. The Tobias and Sarah Freeman are dragged away. Josh saves Nate, bringing him to Mary Glenowen, who helps him recover. Part of the recovery process involves being covered with an Iroquois healing blanket, which bears a symbol of healing, a familiar 'S' shield.

At the end of 1960, having fully healed, Nate rides off to free Tobias and Sarah, and to have his revenge on Jeb.

There's no avoiding it, so let's deal with the elephant in the room - the 'S' shield. Such an obvious link to Superman, far more blatant than Luther-as-bad-guy connection, stands out like a sore thumb.The design just doesn't work. The bright red, blue, and yellow, jump off the page at the reader, further sticking out as we have never seen these particular colours before. They seem to be from a completely different colour palette to those used so far in this series. About the only good thing to remark about the appearance of the logo is that it never really pops up again - thankfully, Jeb doesn't fashion it into a cloak and fight for freedom under it. Although the Superman logo is worked into the cover of each issue, it has always been in a more subdued manner, feeling as if it belongs to the image. Here, it's an unwelcome intrusion that brings the reader out of the story crafted by Ostrander.

This issue feels a bit rushed. The story needs to end with the Civil War about to erupt, and thus this issue covers over three years of plot. It's also the most focused of the issues - the detours into historical background are limited to two single pages, allowing the narrative more room to focus on the Kent brothers. Despite his inaction during the murder of the Free Men, Jeb finishes the issue firmly painted as a villain, shooting his brother in the back and throwing his lot in fully with Quantrill. Jeb will inhabit this role for most of the rest of the series, losing some of the layered detail of character that he was portrayed with during the first few issues.

Overall, this first arc in The Kents has been a success, despite having to work against a specific era of American history that is perhaps less well-known that the Civil War era that dominates the next arc.

The Geeky Bits:

Estimated Diamond Pre-Orders: 29,715 (-3,805)
Diamond Sales Chart Position: 91 (-6)
Best-Selling Comic Of The Month: Uncanny X-Men #349

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