High Moon, written by David Gallaher and illustrated by Steve Ellis, was the winner of the first month’s competition at DC Comics’ Zuda site, back in 2007. Now, it’s the second volume they’ve brought to print (after Jeremy Love’s Bayou). Both are in a horizontal format, where each of the online “screens” becomes one page.
It’s cowboys and werewolves in the Old West, but instead of a historical approach, this story’s all about the shock and action. Macgregor is the stranger come to town, the precipitating event, a lupine bounty hunter who instantly takes over and orders people around in an attempt to prevent what only he knows is going to happen.
The whole thing feels adrift in time, using archetypes (the less kind would say stereotypes) to create a small Texas town without much need for explanation. Weird things are happening because that’s what kind of story this is. In addition to the promised werewolves, there is no lack of other mystical creatures, plus spell-casting and plenty of death.
The first thing that struck me on a flip-through was how rich and dark the colors were, accentuated by the old-fashioned, non-slick, pulpy paper. The deep colors occasionally made it hard to make out detail. Pages have one dominant tone: blue for night, later gold or red for passion or blood, desert colors.
I was impressed by how little text there is. That’s in keeping with the genre, as well as a technique that builds more curiosity and suspense on the part of the reader. That approach is always helpful for a webcomic, where too much dialogue either becomes unreadable or gets in the way of good art. But it also speaks to how much faith Gallaher has in Ellis, an eye-opener to those who attribute the most creativity to the writer, and a testament to how well the two rely on each other.
Unfortunately, the suspense didn’t work as expected for me. Instead of being drawn into the mystery of what would happen next, I got antsy, ready for a more accelerated pace. I knew what was coming before it got there… but then, I’m not a fan of these genres, so I didn’t get swept away by the atmosphere. There were a couple of actually surprising moments, as the story took turns I didn’t expect (and kind of regretted, but I don’t want to say why for fear of spoiling events for the new reader). There’s minimal explanation or purpose underlying the plotting — the showdown is the point and the justification of what came before. I lost track of who was doing what and why, but that may be because I wasn’t wrapped up in the story.
The second chapter goes steampunk with a train robbery and a different town and characters. The third moves to a winter setting driven by a Native American called Young Raven. By this point, the lone lawman has become a gang of freaks, including a Black Widow-like female detective, facing down Civil War soldiers. While it’s still technically “weird Western”, it reminded me more of the way Alan Moore creates historical superhero-like teams in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen — only this version is purely adrenaline, not intellect, based.
Comparing web to print, the pages look better online, since they were designed to have light coming from behind them. However, on paper, you can read at your own pace, without having to look at the stupid Zuda eyeballs between every page as a new one loads. As a minor point, I found it odd that nowhere on the outside of the book does it say “DC Comics”. Everything is tagged “Zuda”, but the copyright page says “Published by DC Comics”. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)