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Weird Western Adventures: Bea and James #1 (Review)

Writer: Greg Boucher

Artist: Justin Ayres

Studio Stella Polaris, October 2020

Weird Western Adventures: Bea and James is an independently-published comic book from writer Greg Boucher, with illustration done by Justin Ayers. The words “weird western” in the title alludes to a specific sub-genre, where the elements of sci-fi are mixed in what is otherwise a western comic book. It is a fun melange and one that seems to be increasingly explored by independent publishers (most memorably for us, Jack Irons).

The comic starts slow, with sparse dialogue. It initially follows an extra-terrestrial named Bialah, who is wounded and trying to escape from unseen assailants. She is aided by her ship’s AI, Stella, and narrowly escapes her attackers. The problem is that she has lost consciousness as a result of her injuries, and without giving instructions to her ship as to where their destination should be. While successful in her escape, her ship is damaged and she finds herself stranded in a primitive, yet hostile planet: Earth.

From hereon, the story picks up speed as Bialah takes on various disguises in order to fit in with the locals. She doesn’t start out successfully, though. Her first identity is that of a young native American woman – who so happens to come across a group of soldiers led by General Custer.

Weird Western Adventures: Bea and James - Collected Edition sold by Studio  Stella Polaris on Storenvy

We get a little bit of insight into Bialah’s character at that point. Instead of using her superior alien weaponry to kill a would-be executioner, she uses it to threaten and force the man to report her as having been summarily executed. This allows both her and the captor to go their separate ways without anyone getting harmed. But Bialah is not a fool, and learns from this mistake. She chooses her next identity carefully: a male army medic.

The latter half of the comic revolves around the second protagonist, James, who is originally named Juan Cortez but has had to change his name. James’ backstory is tragic – his family was gunned down by a man called “Sargeant Gaines.” The comic does not make it specifically clear why this occurred, although it does provide all the necessary hints to indicate that Gaines and his gang are villains.

We have two complaints about the plot. This part of the story exemplifies the first. A lot of details are vague, and it is up to the reader to read between the lines. There is implication that the mysterious woman trying to recruit James is Bialah’s latest identity.

But that detail does not detract from the main narrative. This is James’ story, and it is one that only seems to reference Bialah’s. Having found Gaines (who is now an elderly man and no longer able to fight), James chooses to spare him – but with a catch. James leaves Gaines with the knowledge that he has not forgiven, nor forgotten. And James wants the old man to live the rest of his life being paranoid, wary that James might come back to finally finish the job.

The second complaint is that while we enjoyed writer Greg Boucher’s writing in Weird Western Adventures, in this first issue the story has not yet found its footing. It does not evenly blend the sci-fi and western genres. Bialah’s story is firmly sci-fi, while James’ story is decidedly more western. Hopefully, this book has already established both protagonists’ backstories and the next instalments can finally explore the two genres in equal measures. Barring this complaint, Weird Western Adventures is still a well-written comic with snappy dialogue.

The art in this comic is exceptional. Artist Justin Ayers does a great job of rendering the characters and portraying the action, using only black and white art with crisp thick outlines. Monochrome art can become muddled and confusing especially in action scenes. But Mr Ayers’ panels are always effective at conveying the story. Our only complaint in respect of the art is that the lack of colors and the minimalism does a disservice to the Western genre. Ordinarily, we like black and white art very much. But Westerns are inevitably brown, tan, and an ombre between the two. The Old West was dirty and dusty. This title has no dirt and dust, and monochrome does not portray the western setting well. This is hardly Mr Ayer’s problem in respect of his duties as artist. We think there is an editorial decision to be made here – the book needs a colourist.

All in all, Weird Western Adventures: Bea and James is an intriguing start to what we hope will be a long, ongoing series. It starts rocky and slow. Stick around for a few pages though and you get to see an intriguing story take shape featuring two mysterious characters who are occupy opposite ends of the genre spectrum. This title is available on Comixology. You can otherwise check out the collected edition, and more of Mr Boucher’s works (in both print and digital format) on Studio Stella Polaris’ official website.