Monday, January 26, 2009

Book Review : Loveless 1-3, A Kin Of Homecoming****, Thicker Than Blackwater*****, Blackwater Falls***** - Brian Azzarello

Brian Azzarello, creator of '100 Bullets' and writer of some of the best of Hellblazer has in Loveless created a fantastically violent and gritty adult western. It's a vicious tale of cruelty and revenge set in the American South after their loss tot he Confederacy in the Civil War.

It is quite hard to review this without giving away too many spoilers. Wes Cutter returns from the war, having fought for the losing side, to his home town of Blackwater. Blackwater has a unit of Confederate soldiers assigned to it who are feared and hated by the locals, Cutter on his surprising re-appearance (he was widely thought to have died in the war) is no more loved and the reasons for this form the base of Azzarello's powerful story.

In many places the story is multi layered, the shades of people in their youth appear alongside the characters living in the present and provide layers of dialogue that seem to interact with the living, and add meaning and history to the story being played out. This reaches a peak towards the end of 'Blackwater Falls' when the ghost of a character who may or may not be dead, appears to some of the living who can see and talk to him, and provides a series of threats and revelations.

Loveless is a great creation, the main characters of Wes and Ruth Cutter, the black slave turned soldier turned bounty hunter Atticus Mann and town boss Jeremiah Trotter are well crafted. The friction between the two Union commanders in the mostly honorable Silas Red and the cruel and evil Captain Lord is nicely played out.

Loveless looks at a major turning point in US history in its examination of the aftermath of the Civil War, it shines an uncomfortable light on the treatment of the black population in both the North and South, and demonstrates clearly how people are changed by the things that happen to them. This is shown most graphically in the story of Ruth Cutter, who we first meet as a loving and lustful young woman, strongly in love with her husband, and who becomes by the end of 'Blackwater Falls' vengeance personified with no chance of experiencing a normal, happy life again.

Sadly, the run of Loveless has been cancelled by Vertigo, so these three trade paperbacks are all we are going to get. Two thirds into book three the story could have been ended, a welter of blood brings the main story to a conclusion, but Azzarello was thinking beyond that and the final few stories tell the tales of those that escaped the final conflagration, his intention was to finish the story in the 1940's but now it looks like this is it. Still, the first three books are very good reading and do tell a complete story.

Excellent stuff, dark, gritty and unnerving and with a plotline that drags you forcibly through the story. It's a Western crossed with the bleakest film noir, where no action or mistake made is left unanswered, and whether a character lives or dies, they are never left unscathed.

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