Pullbox Reviews: Hot Brass: Pharaoh’s Gold, Cowboys & Mummies… and a cat

“Hey, Dad, who would win in a fight between mummies & cowboys?”

According to the forward by writer John Pence, from that simple question came the inspiration for a trip down the rabbit hole that is the Bakersfield of the Wild West. Part Western, part horror, heartily dosed throughout with comedic quips & sight gags, we might just have the book you’ve been waiting your whole life for. Whether you knew it or not.

I never know what I’m getting into when I crack open an “all ages” comic book. Sometimes it’s written too heavily with kids in mind to be digestible for some of us old folks. Sometimes it’s all angsty & full of half-baked notions of romantic, occasionally sparkly vampires. Rarely will I dip into a book that’s written with an obvious eye on a younger audience, and discover a new favorite that I have to add to my shelf.

The shared credit between John & Will Pence makes my job as a reviewer a little tougher, because I don’t really know how to divvy up the credit for this rootin’-tootin’-and-a-shootin’, tongue in cheek in sarcophagus adventure. Presuming Will is the source of that inspiring quote born of a young imagination, I’m just gonna go ahead and declare him the Sheriff of Funtown. Look, we all know that true genius is found in the birth of ideas, innovative thinking that produces the seeds of greatness and grows into the mighty oak that is Hot Brass: Pharaoh’s Gold. I suppose John Pence can bat clean up as the crosser of “t’s” & dotter of “i’s”, picking up the creative process by adding in the filler: characters, setting, dialogue, historical research, and basically just giving everyone something to do.

Let’s just be generous and acknowledge the combined efforts of Team Pence, for the sake of John’s sense of personal growth.

Following a series of mishaps, from a museum showing the sarcophagi of Pharaoh Mekhenaten, his retainers, and at least one guardian cat, to the dry & dusty chaparral of the Wild West, Hot Brass is about as much fun as we can hope to find in a comic. Full of high adventure, we’re pulled along at breakneck speed to keep up with the Dell Boy Gang and the combined forces of the posse led by Sheriff Owens and his “wild half-puma” of a daughter Sally. Where the two groups converge, hilarity often ensues. The dialogue rolls along from one panel to the next, full of authentic sounding Wild Westernisms, and gives the reader a great sense of who the people making up this pretty big cast of characters are.

In one regard, we can give John Pence full credit in that he’s listed as the letterer and can be hailed as a genius in the area of word-talking placement. This book is loaded with spots where side conversations and backtalk are happening alongside the main thread of dialogue. Instead of trying to weave it all together in a rational or coherent flow, Elder Pence lets the chaos work in his favor and leaves the side chatter hanging loose in the panel. The effect fits the tone of the book to a tee, giving a sense of manic energy as a group of loosely connected people (and one wild half-puma girl) are all trying to be heard.

The other part of the comic equation, the art, is every bit as tailor made for Hot Brass as the dialogue and eclectic group of characters. For that we can thank Joe “Have Copic, Will Travel” Koziarski. His way with capturing the spirit of the Old West is just a degree or two short of desert dust & gun smoke poofing out at the turn of every page. There may be cleaner work in comics out there, and Koziarski’s style has a lot of rough edges, but it brings a kind of hectic energy to the story. He’s also got a great knack for working in elements of character design that some creators might not think to add into a comic about cowboys & mummies. Finally, and this might be the biggest kudo I can think to give, Koziarski has a gift for sight gags. They’re seeded liberally throughout Hot Brass, and they go a long way to breath humor into the story, preventing it from going too dark at any given point.

If I had to pick out a single complaint, it’s that there were points in the story where I lost track of who we were following on the page. With a cast of characters as large as this one, and without the more obvious Western tropes of white or black hats and sinister handlebar mustaches to fall back on, it could get a little tough to figure out which group- Sheriff’s posse or Dell Gang- was at the fore (the mummies were pretty easy to spot most of the time). I’m more than happy to draw my share of the responsibility on this one, as I might have just missed a crucial clue here or there… and there are only so many different ways one can draw a cowboy before they start to blend. This relatively minor hitch is happily gotten over when you look at the major players and the hilariously unique traits some of them have been given.

 In the end, I’m going to be looking to add Hot Brass: Pharaoh’s Gold to my collection as soon as I can. This is as true to the “all ages” category as I’ve seen, and shouldn’t present too big an issue for most parents when it comes to the younger readers. Yes there’s some violence, yes there’s some alcohol use, and yes there are horror aspects present. However it’s all put together in such a light-hearted way, without a hint of anything graphic (unless you count the whole walking corpse thing), that I wouldn’t have had any problem with either of my kids picking this one up when they were in the upper single digits.

Just a note, they turned out fine. The therapy bills will get paid down eventually…

Final Score: 12/13

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