Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun Review

By | Saturday, June 04, 2011 Leave a Comment
I have to admit to a bit of apprehension coming to Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun. Not only am I unfamiliar with the Deadlands game, I hadn't even heard of it before now! (I've been out of the RPG circle for years!) But I've read enough from David Gallaher and Steve Ellis to give them the benefit of the doubt, and dove in with no preparation. I even skipped the brief overview of the world on the credits page. I'm coming to this with no more knowledge than what you can find on the cover: Wild West with some weird steampunk/mystical elements.

My apprehension, though, was entirely unwarranted. As with all of the Gallaher/Ellis stories I've read, they give the reader everything they need to know. One of the reasons I enjoy reading their books is precisely because of that; even if you're diving into obscure Marvel minutia (the history of the Dire Wraiths, for example) they don't rely on you knowing any of it. But unlike the old comics from the 1970s and '80s where there was often clunky dialogue and flashbacks that was used to catch new readers up to speed, these guys are able to weave in those elements into the story more organically.

Anyway, Devil's Six Gun is the story of Copernicus Blackburne. He's genius-level inventor, up there with Nik Tesla and Tom Edison. Most of the book recounts his life story, and how he spent so much of it work on a gun to kill the Devil, at the behest of wealthy industrialist Samuel Tygian. Ultimately, he does succeed, though at serious cost. I'll leave the specifics for you to find out in the book itself.

There's a lot of interesting things going on in this story. What first struck me was that Gallaher is a lot more verbose than he normally is. He often refrains from adding lots of text, instead preferring to let the artwork tell the story, but he opts here to provide a fair amount of narration. It works well with the story, and provides a sort of an American folk tale feel to the piece. Almost Mark Twainian, but a bit less optimistic.

Ellis, too, turns into some interesting work. As always, he does a superb job in the illustration and basic storytelling. What I find more interesting here, though, is that he weaves in some more subtle visuals in places that provide some nuance to the reader's interpretation of the story.

There's something of a question running through the issue: when Tygian asks Blackburne to create a gun to kill the Devil, is it a literal or figurative request? That raises a host of other questions. Is the Devil really guiding the forces running throughout Blackburne's life? Is Tygian an agent of the Devil or, in fact, the Devil himself? Is the "Ghost Rock" really mystical or is it simply an unusual meteorite fragment? One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was that Gallaher and Ellis walk a very fine line on all of these questions, never providing an outright answer but giving enough suggestions to keep the reader thinking that maybe there's more going on than they're being told.

All in all, I thought it was a great read. It has a lot of the great storytelling that Gallaher and Ellis proved themselves with on High Moon, and even has some of the same tonal qualities, but it's still a much different approach that is just as successful. Deadlands: The Devil's Six Gun is due from Image in stores on the 15th, while Gallaher and Ellis will touring New England doing signings the weekend of the 25th.
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