I have little experience with Western films, and my knowledge of the real-life Wild West is similarly minimal. As a result it was only after a quick Google that I discovered the cowboy outlaw Tom Ketchum on which this series takes inspiration was a real person. However, Black Jack Ketchum is no biopic but seemingly its own tale – and although set in Ketchum’s time, it’s unclear at this point if the titular character will even make an appearance. What is this series about then, I hear you cry? Black Jack Ketchum is a miniseries following a different Tom Ketchum, a regular man who has been mistaken for the most wanted outlaw in the land. An unfortunate situation to be in, that’s for sure. Hunted by forces he doesn’t understand and accompanied by a deadly young woman and a gun which inexplicably talks, this first issue chronicles Tom’s desperate attempt to clear his name and convince his pursuers that they have the wrong man. Needless to say he’s unsuccessful, otherwise this series would be rather short. This is an entertaining issue though, setting up the premise and main cast well whilst also delivering some exciting moments along the way. The opening chase sequence kicks things off with a bang, and establishes the surroundings well – granted, my inexperience with this genre means I’m no expert on what makes a Western feel like a Western, but nonetheless I felt the beautifully illustrated scenery was effective at building the baron, unfriendly landscape the genre is known for.
Indeed, the artwork by Claudia Balboni is strong throughout, also playing an instrumental part in building the intimidating persona of villain The Judge. The decision to feature fiery shades of red and orange in their introductory scene only added to the feeling that The Judge is a force to be reckoned with, and shrouding the character in shadow also gave the scene an air of mystery – even if the character’s final page reveal perhaps didn’t hit me as hard as it was intended. The page layouts are interesting with one page consisting of eight panels highlighting the relentlessness of Tom’s pursuers proving to be particularly memorable.
The issue was also well plotted by writer Brian Schirmer for the most part, although I did find myself somewhat bemused by the ending of the main story. This doesn’t spoil the issue as there’s still plenty of fun to be had here – however, it did cap my excitement a little for the next instalment as rather than leaving me pumped, this finale left me scratching my head. Speaking of confusion, the decision to include a talking gun in the main cast is one that is yet to be explained or even touched upon. I can see the merit in not laying all your cards on the table straight away, but a hint as to whether the gun’s voice is a figment of Tom’s imagination or perhaps something supernatural would have been nice. Overall though, I’m nitpicking. This issue was a fun read, and shouldn’t be dismissed due to these minor shortcomings. If you’re looking for an interesting new indie title, Black Jack Ketchum is well worth a look.
Black Jack Ketchum #1 Writer: Brian Schirmer Artist: Claudia Balboni Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/2/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital