By Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, and Thomas Mauer
Let there be no doubt that Copperhead is first and foremost a Western comic and here in issue #5 we’re greeted with an old-fashioned stand-off on the wild plains, lawmen abrasively upholding the law, colorful townsfolk and doggone-it, even a cute lil’ ‘pup just trying to find his way home. While this issue is a little more “down home on the range” than it is “rootin’ and tootin’ wild west” it still encapsulates the best that genre has to offer (the frontier ambiance, the hardened desperadoes, the mix of manifest destiny with reluctant co-dependence) while incorporating the flair of science fiction. Faerber, Godlewski, Riley and Mauer have something special on their hands; a thoroughly entrancing book set in an engrossing setting with an environment and characters that ring true for this or any world at this or any time. This issue wraps up the premiere arc, perhaps a little more quietly and a little more understated than expected, but its ability to linger in the vast expanse of your imagination long after turning the final page is what makes it so addictive. Plus, there’s an adorable dog in it and what are you some kind of monster?
Playing out largely like a police procedural, this issue brings the investigation into the Sewell family massacre to a close and it’s a surprisingly more emotional explanation than one might have assumed in this world of aliens, beasts, spaceships and robots. Faerber starts the issue at the point of highest tension and gradually slows the story pacing down from there, allowing for the mystery to unravel comfortably and give needed breathing room to the character development. Clara’s steely resolve is tested and often beaten, but Faerber continues to instill in her a noble honor not afraid to admit being wrong nor apologize for feeling the way she did. It’s nice to see her son look up to his mom as a hero again as well. Missus Sewell too, is painted in an honest, more admirable light not content to leave her be the one-note redneck with too many kids to count (well, not anymore) and frumpy, confrontational disposition. Deputy Boo goes straight-up Suge Knight on a punk in this issue and besides being a damn delight, he also carries with him his quiet tragedy of proving time and again he’s more than capable and qualified to be Sheriff of this remote mining town, but knows this world simply won’t allow for it. And Ishmael, well, he proves he’s capable of being a valuable ally or a troublesome foe depending on circumstance, even if his artificial heart is in the right place (does he have one of those?). For an issue that serves to provide resolution, it’s the characters personalities and early growth that shine brightest. So yes, the case is closed a little less action-packed than perhaps some were expecting, but it was all in the name of the far greater mission of shaping believable, three-dimensional characters and it’s a far more satisfying result even if it lacks the more immediate thrills.
Scott Godlewski can seemingly not be stopped. It’s an amazing thing, to be a comic artist, and have someone turn to you and say “here, create worlds” and yet, Godlewski seems to relish the challenge. It’s more than just literally drafting backdrops or landscapes, it’s about making the world feel lived-in and that’s where this artistic tandem of Godlewski and Riley really soar. Buildings are cracked, armor is dented, signs are worn and everything is textured to indicate that once upon a time it was gleaming new before the dust and time caught up with them. Godlewski’s line work is sharp, expressive and wonderfully fluid, but his ability to lay out a page, especially one that’s heavier in conversations like this one, is what sets him apart. He’s clearly in a flow with Faerber and the two build scenes rife with cinematic tension. It’s an honest to goodness drama that just so happens to be playing out in a Tatooine-like atmosphere. And that moment of Clara looking down at her son, Scott, you nailed it. Ron Riley’s colors wonderfully complement the setting and enhance the lived-in feeling with the sponged texturing of walls and faded blends of clothing and skies, but it is his palette than will transport you to an LSD-fueled Daft Punk video. Amazingly, despite what should come across as a high-pitch siren of fuchsias or radioactive lime, it all fits and hums with the surroundings. Instead of Las Vegas, Riley gives you the playful, yet soothing palette of the New Mexico sunset indoors and out.
Issue #5 slowed things down, which might disappoint some, but there’s a lot of road left down the trail and what we got in return was an expected vibrant visual treat heavy on keeping the story tonally true and fleshing out already captivating characters. Faerber tacitly plants hints as to the multitude of ideas still left to mine, but Copperhead is in no rush to start blasting lasers for the sake of action or bleeding clichés dry to appease trope requirements. No, it’ll continue to mosey at its confident pace building a rich, character-driven experience.