By Justin Wood
Cowboys and Aliens. Where have I heard that one before? Snidery aside, there is obviously room for more than one take on such an idea, especially one so rife with potential beyond the obvious. Kimot Ren has a clunky name, a likable cover, and what looks like a decent artist behind the wheel, but exactly how well does this series develop the concept of Out West meets Outer Space?
Kimot Ren is an Android, servant of a Martian authority tasked with preventing a coup of radicals who plan to conquer the human race as pseudo-benevolent dictators. When the mission goes south, Kimot and his master are stranded on Earth, more specifically Frontier America at the turn of the 19th century. A four-armed stranger in a strange land, Kimot has to use his wits to survive and blend in if he and his master wish to complete their mission alive.
Kimot Ren starts out as nice straightforward adventure sci-fi comic, with broad political motivations, warring ideologies, and Buck Rogers style ray guns. Despite oddly being broken up into short anthology style chapters like a mid-60's Marvel comic book, the pacing was good and direct, balancing the exposition nicely without obsessive amounts of in-universe detail but not so campy as to remove any sense of gravity. The art is similarly decent and straightforward, occasionally distractingly skimping on background details but featuring admirable composition and visual storytelling.
And then the Cowboys start talking.
I've said it before, and I'll likely have to say it repeatedly in the future, but period storytelling is risky and difficult. A lot of comic storytellers like to tackle it because a lot of easily accessible stories draw from genre settings, like westerns, chivalry adventures, and noir. The broad strokes of era storytelling are nostalgic and come preloaded with useful, easy-to-understand archetypes, seemingly bearing a lot of narrative load by leaning on cultural expectation. The two extremes are total popcorn camp, with white hats, black hats, and gunfights at high noon, and on the other end gritty, often post-modern, historical dramas, a dark steely-eyed look back at a morally challenged period of American history. To be perfectly honest, usually the best route for the writer to take is to fully lean towards one of these extremes, but unfortunately, with most indie westerns I come across, the results tend to play down the middle with weak results. I think the mistake is confusing seriousness and realism with 'cool,' wanting the broad lack of responsibility that comes with writing camp but not being able to escape the desire to be taken seriously.
In our first few pages of Kimot Ren's take on the Old West, two towns ne'er do wells suddenly start waxing philosophic about meteor showers in bizarrely and inappropriately elevated language. The sheriff establishes these characters as drunks and cheeky lowlifes in a time and location where illiteracy was rampant, yet they launch into musings about extra-planetary particle bursts, divine intervention, and using words like 'inscrutable' and 'portent.' They then immediately change the subject to the matter of discount whores, which I assume was intended to be funny but more immediately seems to call up that problem of tone and balance.
It unfortunately never grows past this basic problem, only getting more profoundly ridiculous when our four armed, gold plated protagonist is discovered by these turn of the century lowlifes who react to this extraterrestrial vision with a complacent, cow-like acceptance of the extraordinary, formulating extremely convenient and astounding leaps in logic to allow the story to move forward. There's no mortal terror, no awe, and confusion at seeing something that won't be able to exist for another hundred or so years, just some nonsense that can let us get this robot playing cowboy by issue two as smoothly as possible. By now, Ren's motivations are scrambled and confused, and his comfortable and easily obtained survival has worn down any sense of seriousness left to take this world with, leaving me wishing the author had more fully embraced the tone of the cover and swung in that broader, sillier extreme. So far, the book has utterly failed at being able to be taken seriously; goofy would be welcome at this point.
Like a lot of indie titles, I like the premise but feel let down by the execution. Reading Kimot Ren you also can feel how much the writer liked the idea as well, the pacing of the storytelling doesn't feature that familiar tangy whiff of elevator pitch storytelling, where every issue has to end on a genre inverting twist. The art too is professional and occasionally really nicely accomplished. Where Kimot Ren falls short is, like so many other period pieces, underestimating the requirements of its genre, and setting up a predicament that requires cunning and guile and neglecting to include either. Kimot has yet to face a problem that a bemused frontier yokel doesn't solve for him by being uncharacteristically easy-going and accommodating. Does that sound like the West to you? Like a story of survival? As much as I wanted to enjoy this book, it certainly didn't read like one, and therein lies the problem.
Kimot Ren #1
Writer: Julian Darius
Artist: Andre Siregar