Pullbox Reviews Midnight Western Theater- It’s all fun & games until someone eats a goat…

Welcome to the Midnight Western Theatre! Our feature presentation is a series of tales spanning across the turbulent 1860’s of the United States of America. It is a time where rights have been wronged! Where the guilty plague the innocent! Where man and beast have little difference! HOWEVER, the new frontier has far more dangerous threats than the folly of man! Threats that are MYSTERIOUS!!! STRANGE!!! DEADLY!!! In such a chaotic era, who is brave enough to face these most dastardly beings?

Previously…

Ortensia Thomas the Woman in Black & Alexander Wortham the Reluctant Vampire were forced to face a shape-shifting monster of brute strength. More importantly, the duo also confronted one another over their future together in this twisted Wild West. As that culminated in them creating a plan for tomorrow, we now look towards the past for one final tale in this newest issue.

I really love episodic adventure stories, each piece able to stand on its own and yet linked to a larger ongoing narrative. It’s the kind of thing that’s welcoming to a new audience, and rewarding to returning readers/viewers. Once upon a time, it was all we had. Y’see kids, before the invention of the wheel and the wonders of video on demand & streaming services, television shows couldn’t count on viewers being able to tune in every week. There might have been a larger story happening, but it was almost always background info that didn’t come into play until a season finale or ” a very special episode”. As time went on and viewers started to get more invested in their shows, more inclined to set aside that weekly time slot to keep up with the latest episodes, producers started to play a longer game.

In the mire of decades worth of comicbook continuity, there’s still something to be said for those old days where each issue was a more contained story in itself. The smaller stories gave readers a chance to build up to the larger narrative, becoming invested in characters as they went along. The challenge is in creating the comic equivalent of a short story, crafting the conflict & resolution in a short amount of time while leaving the threads of the ongoing story in place. Each episode in Scout’s Midnight Western Theater five issue run is its own thing, satisfying all by itself while adding pieces of the puzzle that is the bigger picture. For me, a lot of that satisfaction was found in the play between main characters, Ortensia Thomas & Alexander Wortham.

Catching my interest with the cover of the first issue, stumbled onto while browsing the titles on Scout’s website, I liked the introduction to Ortensia and Alexander. The duo is shown in action, their dialogue full of humor and thick with character as the two bickered back and forth throughout a very Western story of bandits sacking a small town. Building on that interest, writer Louis Southard has kept things moving along at a good pace and maintained that great dialogue.

For issue 5, billed as the last in the series, Southard decided that it was time for the inevitable flashback episode, more in depth than those that have opened the other issues. Where those have been focused on Ortensia’s origin story, told in small two-page instalments, this issue takes readers through the first meeting of the Woman in Black and the Reluctant Vampire. Southard upholds his end of the bargain, keeping all of the charm and left-of-center wit that hooked me into the series to begin with. Admittedly, much of that owes to Alexander’s quirky personality and the fact that he’s got to be the most unassuming creature of the night that I’ve ever read. When played off against Ortensia’s more serious, no nonsense demeanor, the two would hold up well against the oddest of fictional odd couples you could name.

Visually, David Hahn takes the handoff from Southard and runs with it. He’s built off of the personalities of Ortensia & Alexander, taking their quirks and translating them into memorable character designs. Ortensia is all business, ready to shoot first and question maybe at the drop of a hat (just not her bowler hat, which by the way is one of my favorite touches to her look), while Alexander is the obvious result of a very prim & proper upbringing… before that whole vampire biting thing. Design aside, Hahn is able to do is bring personality to the characters through posture and facial expression. That feat is made more impressive to me because Hahn’s style isn’t as detailed as might usually be associated with that kind of work. A raised eyebrow here, a wry smirk there, & Paul’s a happy reviewer…

For what it’s worth, I think Midnight Western Theater would’ve been just fine as a fully black & white comic. The tone of the book & the work of David Hahn would have lent themselves well to that kind of stark look. However, the colors added by Ryan Cody are subtle, very understated and they fit the story perfectly. Each scene sticks to a color palette determined by the setting, with sparing highlights used here, the more dramatic splashes limited to gouts of arterial red as needed.

Finally, gotta talk about the lettering. For the most part, Buddy Beaudoin does a fine job, laying text and dialogue out in an orderly way that doesn’t interrupt the art. However in Alexander’s speech, the approach is white text on a black background that got a little tough on my old eyes. I think the idea was to give Al’s voice a darker quality in keeping with his nature, but that’s totally at odds with his personality. For the most it would probably be fine and not create a problem, but for others (particularly those of us reading on a tablet) it may get a little hard to read.

I know that I’ve played up the fun of this book, but it does need to be said that there are some heavy themes as a dark world (not a World of Darkness… totally different thing) is explored. Fans of stories set in the Weird West, those into violent tales of supernatural horror, and readers tickled by great dialogue should give Midnight Western Theater a try. With five issues out in the wild, and presumably a collected trade lurking in the shadows, there’s plenty of time to get on board.

Final Score: 11/13

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