By | Saturday, March 07, 2009 Leave a Comment
I got a chance to read the collected edition of Caliber: First Canon of Justice this afternoon. It's from Radical Publishing and reprints the five issues of last year's comic by the same name.

The first thing I noticed was the high production values. The cover felt surprisingly solid, given its light weight and the paper stock used inside was excellent. I don't normally notice those types of things unless they're problematic or decidedly inferior, so I was pleasantly surprised to notice the quality here.

The story is essentially a take on the King Arthur legends, but set in the American West. I didn't see anything to date the story specifically, but it appears to be late in the 1800s. A Shaman named Whitefeather is in possession of a powerful handgun that can only be fired by one man who is the living embodiment of the law. The book opens with Whitefeather searching for whoever this might be. Whitefeather finds his man when an illegal gunfight draws the attention of one Arthur Pendergon, who's rage of the injustice prompts him to grab the weapon and blast a bolt of blue lightning through the criminal. The corrupt town officials are soon after Arthur and Whitefeather. On the run, the two accumulate a decent circle of friends and are able to return to the town to bring law, order and justice to it.

Some of the Arthurian allusions are pretty obvious. Arthur's buddy is named Lance; his girlfriend is named Gwen. There's a tarot card reader named Morgan. The aformentioned gun is clearly a substitute for Excaliber. I started reading it with no knowledge of what it was about, and it didn't take long at all to realize it was a Western version of King Arthur. (Naming the main character Arthur Pendergon is a bit of a giveaway if there were ANY doubts by the time you got to the second chapter.) But, fortunately, the book is NOT just a straight re-telling of the original myths. The basic structure is there, and there's plenty of direct and conscious nods to the source, but the story takes some different turns. Having the climactic battle hinge on the rage and almost ninja-like skills of an indentured mistress named Sheng Yi was a bit of a surprise, for example.

By and large, it was a good story. Well plotted and decent dialogue throughout. I did find a couple of instances of the gun being fired somewhat discongruous with its stated abilities; while there's some in-story dialogue to acknowledge those instances, they still seem to slide over the explanations a bit.

The art was excellent throughout. It actually read surprisingly well given the darker and muted colors used everywhere. I was never at a loss for following the action. There were a couple instances where I felt the word balloons could've been placed better, but those couple of times were the exceptions and not the rule.

One thing about the art bothered me, though. All of the figures were drawn very well, and maintained a solid consistency throughout the story. Even characters who bore similar facial features were pretty easily distinguishable from one another. However, the character of Lance was clearly modeled after actor Colin Farrell. It's actually a very good likeness in every depiction of him, but that he's the only character that's directly based on a famous actor, it was slightly distracting. The images of Gwen, too, had a quality that suggested she's based more directly on a specific individual, but I couldn't place who that might be.

Despite those nitpicks, I actually enjoyed the book quite a bit. It's very well done overall, and was a pleasure to read. I don't think I've liked the Arthurian legends that much since Mage.
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