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Loveless Trade Post: All Three Volumes

April 25, 2012

After reading all 13 volumes of Brian Azzarello’s Vertigo book 100 Bullets, I decided to snag the second volume of his western series Loveless that I was missing and give the whole thing a read through. The book ran for 24 artists and included artists like Marcelo Frusin, Daniel Zezelj and Werther Dell’Edera. It’s a post-Civil War story about a husband and wife who both survived the war in a southern town called Blackwater, but each earning their scars. Wes Cutter saw all kinds of horrors and realized that many of the distinctions that men place on themselves don’t really matter worth a damn while his wife Ruth did what she had to survive which partially lead to a savage sexual assault at the hands of Union soldiers. Wes returns to Blackwater backed by a mysterious young man (SPOILER, it’s actually Ruth with short hair). The book also focuses on a freed slave turned bounty hunter who also happened to be one of Ruth’s attackers as well as some of the Union soldiers stationed in the south to help with rebuilding.

So, yeah, there’s a lot going on in this book and, like 100 Bullets, the book is populated with some really despicable characters, though you wind up feeling for Wes and Ruth as the wronged couple trying to get their lives back on track even though the whole world seems dead set on keeping them off balance. Hell, off balance is an understatement.

But, even in the face of some really terrible stuff, Ruth and Wes are the kind of couple you just can’t help but root for. Even without all the bad things that happened to them, I just liked how dedicated and in love they were with each other. I’m drawn to couples that don’t fit squarely into the basic gender roles and all that where they really get a long and make things work. That reminds me of my relationship with my wife and I like seeing that reflected in fiction.

However, there are a few problems with the series. First off, I wish Marcelo Frusin would have been able to draw the entire book. The other artists do alright, but when reading a series like this that doesn’t last very long and is self contained, I’d much rather see one consistent art style throughout the whole thing. It doens’t help that Zezelj’s linework is incredibly thick and sometimes very difficult to read. I think they might have been trying to achieve the kind of dark shadows that can intensify a scene on TV or in a movie, but it just comes off as okay at best and unintelligible at worst.

My other major problem with this series is the ending. There’s an end of sorts to the Wes and Ruth tale that seems like it will continue on in some fashion and then you get a few more issues set much further ahead in time and deal either with brand new characters or tertiary-at-best ones. At first it seemed like the time jumps would show you what happened to the important characters in the series through these other people, but that’s not the case. And then it just ends. I don’t know if the book was cancelled prematurely or what, but it definitely feels like it. I wonder if he was going for a kind of Coen Brothers ending where the actual action of the finale is off screen and discussed later, but it doesn’t come off like that. Instead it feels like you get a somewhat satisfying ending and then teased with another potential group of story details only to wind up lacking.

So, while the ending fails to a great extent and the art is uneven, I liked this series as a whole and I think it all boils down to my like of Wes and Ruth Cutter as characters. I feel a strong connection to them and was right there with them as much as possible. There’s some lack of focus, but those two as well as all the other characters were rich enough to keep me engaged.

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