Friday, February 17, 2006

Rio: Twisting Through a Dusty Land

After a great discussion about Doug Wildey’s artwork over at CBR – I redoubled my efforts to track down a copy of Rio. Luck was with me, as I searched through a local bookstore that has a good selection of old comics and lo and behold – there sat a wonderful hardcover copy of Rio. Apparently, a limited run of 1,500 were printed and signed by Wildey himself. This was the kind of find that keeps a comic book fan like me happy.

I was really looking forward to reading it, but with a 10-week old baby at home, my time for funnybooks has been extremely limited. I read the first couple of pages while eating my breakfast cereal one morning this week. I dashed off to work leaving it on the dining room table. I return home that evening to find my wife sitting on the couch reading Rio. Keep in mind, our house is full of comics – there is one at every turn and I never, ever see her reading them. It was nice to actually get Kat’s view of a comic book before I’d read it. She said she thought it was great – and had actually put it down earlier but came back to it to see how it ended.

What can I say about this book? It is definitely everything that a comic book can be. The fact that it is a western makes it even sweeter. Westerns really weren’t a big thing when I was a young comic book fan – the genre had run its course in most media. That turned out to be a blessing in disguise as I have been able to discover just how perfect western stories fit into the comic book medium.

Wildey is best known for creation Jonny Quest, but he has a very impressive body of work in comic books as well. He worked for many different publishers and excelled in most genres. Rio is obviously a very personal work by a creator at the height of his powers. The look of this book owed more to John Ford’s ‘Monument Valley’ films than it does to the western comics of the 50s, as Wildey’s layout have an impressive cinematic feel to them. The plot, however, owes much more to the anti-hero works of the 70s such as Jonah Hex and Outlaw Josey Wales. Rio is a compelling figure and he is trying to figure out a world that is deeply entrenched in a mixture of greed and apathy.

For my money, the best westerns are those that explore some of the black eyes of American history. The extinction of the buffalo certainly fits the mold. Wildey explores the issue through the eyes of an outsider and is able to show the perspectives of the profiteer, the military and the Native American. The narrative is very tights and flows beautifully.

The artwork is even stronger, and Wildey’s talent as a painter is apparent. The sequence in which Rio forced into the ‘Chase’ is brilliant, pure and simple and should be shown to anyone trying to figure out what a comic book should look like.

There are other chapters in the Rio saga, published by different companies and it would be great if they could be collected in a single volume one day.

This is as good as comics get.

1 comment:

Christie :) said...

I stumbled on your blog by accident but loved what you had to say about Rio. Doug was my uncle and it's always so wonderful to see that his work still touches people to this day. Cheers! :)