By Jay Faerber, Scott Godlewski, Ron Riley, and Thomas Mauer
Date night! A little food, some invigorating conversation, two people looking for companionship just getting to know each other in a small town…in all its awkward glory. Alright, dating is strange and hard and often insufferably uncomfortable, and thanks to Faerber, Godlewski, and co. Copperhead #7 conveys the seat squirming in the most charmingly effective way possible: utterly real. Clara Bronson isn’t just one of the best female lead characters in comics right now; she’s one of the best characters in comics period. An occasional mess, a constant badass, and a hero who knows what she wants, even if it means that screwing up is a possibility. This issue is another triumph in a string of undeniably strong monthly installments that ensures that this little town, regardless of its alien terrain, is filled with thoroughly enriched grounded Western-inspired characters and flavors on every page. It’s perfectly paced, visually engrossing and most importantly, a hell of a lot of fun. The science-fiction elements allow for great design exploration and atmospheric touches, but make no mistake, Copperhead is a series that rings true to its rugged roots.
Clara Bronson is kind of over taking bullshit, be it from scummy space bandits or societal dating conventions. She’s a single mother in a new place, with a potentially rough past (Faerber begins planting some seeds here regarding her estranged husband) and sure as hell isn’t going to let anything try to hold her down as Sheriff in this backworld mining town. Faerber and Godlewski have instilled her with so much damn attitude, a rich but familiar blend of confidence and insecurity, it’s nigh impossible not to immediately root for her in all her endeavors, be they carnal or criminal-crushing. Faerber shifts much of the focus this issue on Clara and Thaddeus and it’s both immensely entertaining and enlightening. It’s a lot of character develop for both, but of course mostly for Clara as he fully establishes just how “take charge” she can truly be. Faerber examines and completely subverts any and all traditional gender roles with vigor and in a manner that doesn’t so much emasculate Thaddeus (although, there might be one or two intentional instances of this that set-up some great drama down the line) as it does continue to strengthen Clara. There’s some great action to be had, for sure, but the heart of this issue is undeniably seeing what makes Clara tick. As always the dialogue is appropriately succinct, these characters often speak volumes more in their actions than their words, but Faerber also manages to nail the awkward dinner scene while subtly laying a good bit background information. The issue all takes place within the span of a few hours or so, but Faerber’s script keeps the pace flowing perfectly to heighten the drama as well as the gun fire.
Admittedly, there’s a lot of talking heads to be seen this issue and far less massive landscapes or bizarre vehicles or epic battles with mammoth insect creatures. That being said, this might very well be Godlewski’s best storytelling to date. While Faerber’s script is tightly paced, it’s Godlewski’s highly attuned beat-to-beat transitions and control that makes this issue sing. His cartooning and line style have always lent themselves to thoroughly conveying the requisite attitudes and emotions into these characters (Clara sipping her coffee like a boss or telling the local idiots to just, please, shut up, are two immediate examples that come to mind) but here we see a myriad of smirks, wandering eyes, forlorn eyebrows and stone-faced resolve that is a whole new level. He’s the director and cinematography as one and in perfect harmony to best communicate what this particular story is about and who these particular characters. It’s all done so efficiently and elegantly, the story moves absolutely effortlessly, save for when a particular moment of ecstasy or despair needs to linger for maximum effect. The few pages of gun-fueled dramatics feels perfectly confined for the setting and the thick as butter tension in the air, all thanks to Godlewski’s fluid transitions and character work. Like a strobe light illuminating fumbling passion, the sequence of returning back to Thaddeus’ pad post-dinner (wink wink) is brilliant and almost impossibly tangible. It may not have giant spaceships or monsters, but that little panel where Clara bites Thaddeus’ lower lip is about as perfect a microcosm for who she is and what this book is all about.
This issue is dark, in exactly the right ways thanks to Riley’s colors. Save for the unfortunate olive-colored walls of the restaurant (unfortunate for the poor patrons, not us readers) almost the entire issues takes place in the moonlit spectral blues and fuchsias that serve as a perfect balance for intimacy and invasion. Balance really is the right word for Riley’s applications here, it’s a delicate blend of shadow and saturated cools that at times is thoroughly comforting and at others haunting. The characters all pop against the more textured backgrounds with careful shading that’s slick and the mix of tones, especially considering the natural skin color to some of these characters, that pops while feeling right at home. It’s a great palette, one that takes the romanticized wild frontier nights on the range to a fun, luminous extreme.
Dating: ain’t nobody got time for that. Adept storytelling on all fronts with lively, fully believable characters, Copperhead #7 proves that one doesn’t need unbridled action sequences to tell a compelling story. Large-scale ideas are only strengthened when the focus can shift to the smaller moments that reveal worlds about those that inhabit them. Plenty of narrative roads are being laid to investigate and explore down the line, but the small-scale intricacies and nuances of Copperhead keep this as engaging a book you’re likely to find. Everyone needs a little love before delivering that sledgehammer of old town justice, and lucky for us this series has both in droves.