By Dan Abnett, Phil Winslade & Ellie De Ville
If you grew up in the 80s and 90s, you may remember a kids Sci-Fi Western TV show called Bravestarr. It was set on a distant planet called New Texas and featured a diverse range of races and characters. There was a cybernetic horse called Thirty/Thirty who owned a rifle called Sarah Jane. Yes. You read that correctly.
We’re not here to talk about Bravestarr but if you’re a fan (or were a fan) of the children’s Sci-Fi/Western mash-up of yester-year, Lawless might bring out some sentimental memories thanks to its Sci-Fi-Western blend.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you should read on because Lawless is a master-piece in genre blending, action, drama, human relationships and humour. It’s also a Sci-Fi Western. Did I mention that?
Set largely in the town of Badrock on 43 Rega, Lawless takes place 5 years after a war against the alien race Zhind was fought and won. This was fought using the combined force of Mega-City One and 5 years later, it has a frontier feel and an old-west style to town planning, clothing and even architecture. This is beautifully illustrated by Phil Winslade in a black and white style that befits the Western feel. The stylised art and scratchy lines that are used feels sci-fi (it is the Dredd-verse after all and you can expect aliens, mechs and apes) but it’s everything you want from a Western setting, giving the page a feel of weathered age.
The two primary characters are Marshal Metta Lawson and Nerys Pettifer. Nerys is the clerk to the Marshal’s Office and is a well-meaning, friendly natured, slightly unfit individual who is brimming with positive energy. In contrast Lawson is positively dry, inappropriate, anti-social and ‘not what they were expecting’. As a partnership goes, they are a perfect read!
So what is Lawson doing in Badrock? Well, the previous Marshal went a little crazy and ended up being locked up. Lawson is there as a replacement and intends to clean up the town whose sole purpose is to home the personnel working on a mega construction site owned by Munce Inc. It’s a working-class town inhabited by various factions; Mechs, Uplift workers, Abs (native alien race), salvage scavengers and Munce Inc. themselves. They don’t all play nicely together and this means there is conflict, politics and an underlying sense of unease throughout the town. Lawson has her work cut-out for her.
Okay, did I mention the two main characters are women? It shouldn’t matter either way but unfortunately, women still have a tendency to be underrepresented in works of popular fiction, particularly in movies and yes, comic books. There isn’t a short supply of female characters in comics but are they represented right? There is a test that explores this in movies and other works, known as the Bechdel Test and it was developed by Alison Bechdel in her comic, Dykes to Watch Out For. It is not the be-all and end-all as a mechanism to measure the gender-equality in a given work, but it’s a pretty good place to start.
So what is the test? Simple: Does the work of fiction feature (1) at least two female characters (2) that are talking (3) about something other than a man? Often, it is stipulated that these characters are named. Now then… surely most films and books pass this very simple test, right? Wrong. Only 50 to 60 percent of movies pass this (incidentally, the 2012 movie Dredd passes on more than one occasion in the film).
So back to Lawless… It does indeed pass the Bechdel Test (although still only barely in my opinion due to the large number of criminals and subjects of crime being male) but what makes it interesting from a feminism point of view, is that the characters are portrayed with real purpose and meaning. You can tell this because they aren’t there to serve a plot mechanism for a man in the story. It is their story and it’s a story of crime, friendship and underdog determination. That said, if you do want to talk feminism in comics, we could be here a long time and Lawson and Pettifer are still drastically outnumbered by male characters. I’m not saying Lawless is necessarily a ‘feminist comic’ but it’s refreshing to see such an organic female duo at the centre of a title.
Dan Abnett has penned an amazingly fun story that has mystery, suspense, conspiracy, action and emotive character interaction across gender and species alike. It’s fun from the get-go, tackles significant moments with human sentiment and the choices made by the characters seem measured and deliberate. What makes it all the more enjoyable is the underdog nature of Lawson and Pettifer – they are outgunned, out-equipped but stand up for what they care about and believe in.
The dialogue is full of wit and is so fun to read. It’s hard to emphasise just how enjoyable the story is. The southern drawl from the characters flows and moves the story along at a perfect pace. The story builds, it simmers, it boils over then simmers again before unleashing an amazing against-all-odds finale.
It’s also brilliantly funny in places. The dry, sarcastic humour is engaging in both the dialogue and the events that occur. Characters are memorable (even minor characters) and they often have very funny roles to play, much to their own expense.
As already mentioned, the visual design to accompany this story couldn’t be better. Winslade’s illustration really sets an iconic style but the challenge of illustrating in black and white with no colour is that at times the pages feel cramped with lines. As a result, some of the impact can be lost due to the level of detail. Colouring will separate the various forms but with line illustration it can get a bit hectic on the page. This is possibly the only grumble (and it’s a minor one) because some readers (particularly those new to comics) might find this intense detail on the page a little too much. Thankfully, the lettering from Ellie De Ville ensures that the story flows perfectly from panel to panel – readers will not get lost within the details.
Lawless stands out due to its engaging characters, fantastic art design and a truly interesting and exciting story. Character development gives the plot purpose and also helps to evolve the story in a natural way. This leads the reader to invest in every character, making the events that transpire significant and rewarding. Lawless is brilliant in every way.
Lawless: Welcome to Badrock is available in stores, online and digitally via www.2000adonline.com