Saturday, March 21, 2009

STREETS OF GLORY by Garth Ennis & Mike Wolfer

In my big box o' comics last month, I got the latest Avatar offering from Garth Ennis, STREETS OF GLORY.  A western set at the turn of the twentieth century, the protagonist is an old "wore out" soldier who is believed dead by some and revered as a legend by all.  He's come to this small town for a chance to re-ignite a romance long since gone by and he steps right into the middle of tensions sparked by a greedy landowner seeking to expand his empire and turn a profit by purchasing devalued lands around this town - lands devalued through his own machinations.  
As with other Avatar books, EIC William Christensen allows Ennis to create the story he wants without editorial interference.  I don't want to say there is no editing going on - I could not speak to that- but it does mean that Ennis's voice, as with the voices of Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, Jamie Delano and others that create work under the Avatar banner, is not diluted or censored.  Whatever these imaginative creators wish to bring to the comic page - if Christensen believes it is feasible from a business standpoint - they are able to write or draw.  With this edict, Avatar has published some of the more adventurous and exciting books in recent years.  
I enjoyed STREETS OF GLORY, though I didn't find it as engaging as prior offerings from Avatar like Alan Moore's THE COURTYARD (adapted by Antony Johnston & Jacen Burrows) or Ennis's own 303 (with, again, Jacen Burrows).  That said, it was still a very enjoyable read, full of the horrific and extreme scenes one should expect from this Irish comics author while including the characterization and interesting plotting that makes for a good book.  
There were parts that I found a bit truncated, parts that could have benefitted from an expansion of the scenes in question.  I can't say if this was a deficiency of the art, a need to work a particular chapter into the page count alloted, or due to the art of Mike Wolfer.  I should say that, though he is a competent artist, I am not a fan of his work and his art does not seem to offer the nuance and subtlety often needed in quiet scenes.  I hope that my prejudice against Wolfer's art did not color my enjoyment of STREETS OF GLORY, but I imagine it did to a certain extent.  
That said, Ennis again showcased an aspect of his writing at which he excels.  The old adage goes:  if you have a murder in the third act, you need to place the gun in the first act and Garth Ennis is a master.  Since this book recently hit, I'll not ruin the surprise for anyone else who discovers this, but offer instead an example from Ennis's 303, also from Avatar.   Early in the story, the protagonist, an old Russian soldier with a strong sense of honor is leading his band of young enlistees in search of an American plane that had gone down.  Reaching the crash site, he looks down to see a single soldier sitting in the shade of a small cave.  Others are around - for the British and the Americans are also in search of this downed jet - and he knows they must be cautious.  As they make their way down, he looks again, and still sees the rifle jutting out from the cave, but no feet or any other sign of the soldier.  Ambushed, they are cut down by - if I remember correctly - the British soldiers just as the American choppers are arriving.  The Russian loses his own firearm and is helpless after having taken out a number of the Brits.  During the melee, readers have forgotten about the rifle that was left as a decoy to lure the Russians into the crash site, but the old soldier knows it's there and takes it to finish off the one enemy soldier still standing there.  It's a masterful use of misdirection that I am unable to give its due in this description, but suffice to say that Ennis makes it look easy and utilizes this sleight of hand once more with STREETS OF GLORY.  
It's a fun read, and if you're a fan of westerns or of Garth Ennis, definitely check this book out.  It'll be worth your time.

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