Out this week from European publisher Humanoids, we’re in for a western that involves super powers, old magic and a London man trying to make due in the wild wild west.
Thousand Faces (Humanoids Publishing)
So what’s it about? The official Humanoids synopsis reads:
“Take nothing with you, but two mules, a rifle, and ten bullets.” Those words echo in ex-surgeon Frank Quinn’s head as he flees across mid-19th century America to escape the demon known as Thousand Faces, an evil entity that uses blood to enslave others and will stop at nothing to conquer the world. Philippe Thirault, writer of the acclaimed Miss: Better Living Through Crime and Balkans Arena, collaborates with artists Marc Malès (Different Ugliness Different Madness) and Mario Janni to chronicle a sweeping historical epic where science and the supernatural blend in a fusion of horror and redemption.
Why does this book matter?
Westerns are few and far between in the comic book world, at least today, so it’s always a pleasure to see new ones sprout up. When they have science fiction elements you really need to take notice, because that’s even more rare. On top of that this book is written by the same writer who produced Miss: Better Living Through Crime which was one of my favorite trades of last year (when it was rereleased).
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Now that’s freaky.
Thirault has quite a wide sweeping story here, starting in 1849 but bouncing back to London in 1842 and further still to Scotland in 1532, which all interconnects as we cut back and forth between these moments in time. The story is quite epic in nature, like you would find in Highlander, especially when ancient magics and the ability of raising the dead are heavily involved. The first chapter of the book was the strongest, largely because we are introduced to old school medicine in action, as Quinn is taken on in a hospital by a somewhat shady head doctor. This cuts between his life on the prairie in North America seven years later, and part of the fun is figuring out why he fled to America. The story gets ever more complicated as you read on, adding new characters and more wrinkles to the magic in play.
As the story progresses we see different moments in history and it’s fun to see where Thirault takes us. If you’re interested at all in historical fiction this might be for you. If you’ve wanted to see medicine practiced in 1842, the sparse country of Scotland in 1532, or Native American culture in 1849 you’ve come to the right place. This book captures each in a respectful and detailed way. The magic of course is where much of the fiction takes place and Thirault successfully creates a sense of doom and gloom due to powers unknown to anyone lurking about.
The art by Marc Males, who draws the first two thirds of the book, captures the environments quite well. The Native American war parties are quite something, with a lot of detail put into all the characters on the page and the perspective of their approach. London and Scotland look great too. You can tell Males hand colored the pages too, which gives the pages an old school vibe that suits the western scenes.
Mario Janni wraps up the art in the last third of the book and he brings a more modern feel. There are panels that reminded me of 80’s Wolverine drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. There are a lot of speed lines used and fine detail. Plus Janni draws a mean president (I’ll say no more to avoid spoilers!).
It can’t be perfect can it?
While the premise and story are interesting, as well as the time this all takes place, I found it hard to keep my attention in the story as it progressed. The first third was the best, as I said, but when Thirault adds in an adopted son to Quinn’s life, then a whole chapter about his actual son trying to find him, it falls apart. The captions are a bit over the top and melodramatic, which doesn’t help things, but at the same time you don’t ever feel like you really know Quinn or the other characters. In creating a wide sweeping epic, Thirault has watered down the character development and the more interesting magical elements.
More of this!
The threat isn’t very defined either, which hurts the overall drama of the story. How the magic works, or why isn’t detailed too much either. If Thirault was going for a overall doom and gloom metaphor connecting this magic to the dangers of the 1800’s he might have succeeded, but it focuses too much on Quinn’s female conquests and battles when all we really want to know is more about the magic. This makes the reading feel like a drag and a somewhat decompressed sort of story. When we cut to Quinn’s son for an entire chapter it feels as if we’ll never get to the end.
I’m not a fan of how Males draws the faces in this story. They’re neanderthal like and quite ugly. There are times Quinn has a lot of gum showing which makes him look almost stupid, but then later he has that movie star blonde look. It’s just not consistent enough.
The magic elements aren’t very believable when they do occur either. Earlier on in the series two characters do a Charles Xavier mind fight and it’s just laughable to look at. Later we see powers being used as if it’s energy through hands and it doesn’t look very realistic. Maybe it’s because this type of thing doesn’t suit the artist’s strengths–namely realistic environments–but their renditions of the magic elements will take you out of the story.
Is It Good?
This book succeeds in telling its wide sweeping and epic story taking you to different times and places as any good historical fiction should. It does so over more pages than it really should though, which makes the narrative drag and ultimately hard to get through.