From issue to issue, Oni Press’ The Sixth Gun doesn’t waste any time, moving from chapter to chapter with abandon, all the while building a weird world of gunslingers, outlaws, mystics, mummies, zombies, preachers and other worldly creatures. It’s a testament to the Horror-Western subgenre that has come in vogue in recent years. The unsettling nature of its plot is only enhanced by its dusty trail, 19th century aesthetic. With 15 issues published, how much more could this Weird Western yarn have left? Plenty.
Saddle up, as The Sixth Gun is a complex tale. Six Guns imbued with different supernatural elements, the sixth being the most dangerous, are central to the book’s core. Holding the last six shooter is Becky Montcrief, whose wild eyed innocence is only surpassed by her stubborn determination. She is both parts heroine and damsel. Her companions, former soldier turned rogue gunslinger Drake Sinclair and former slave and current mystic Gord Cantrell, are equally representative of the various types of heroes highly associated with the Western genre. Their mission, to simplify things, is to find a way to destroy the guns. Yet forces conspire to use the guns for other reasons, and the motivations of Sinclair waver from page to page as he plays his intentions close to the lapel of his waist coat.
All of these characters and plot points, with their supernatural elements, combine to create the otherworldly that also happens to be grounded by the rich Western setting. With issue 16, The Sixth Gun expands its universe by pulling back the veil a bit more on the backgrounds of its characters.
Former slave Gord returns to the plantation he once new, now deserted and haunted by the ghosts of his late wife and children and the sorcerer slave master he killed years before. Looking for some ancient tomes to shed light on the mystic guns, he must confront his past to push forward into the future.
Becky, using the divine powers of the sixth of the guns, revisits her late stepfather, understanding just a bit more about his place in all this, his motivations for, and knowledge of, the guns themselves. The past and present occupy the same space, if only by the power of the gun, giving Becky more insight about her current predicament – a seeming prisoner of the Sword of Abraham, a group of religious types battling the horrors of the world.
These points, which have been building since issue one, are ever expanding, representing the immense world building writer Cullen Bunn has been achieving with each issue. There is an epic nature to the book, partly due to the setting and the context of the period, but also due to the layer upon layer of story Bunn has built. It is quite the work, both in so far as one-off issue storytelling and the whole combined to represent the immensity of the entire project.
Bunn throughout the entirety of the run has shown a perverse talent for mixing the creepy with straight ahead adventure, weaving the dueling narrative elements seamlessly. Early on, his dialogue was a constant reminder of where the story has been, but as he reached the year milestone, that trick slipped away, leaving a much better developed point of view for each character and a cleaner approach to each issue. The story stays with you, so the constant reminder of the plot points was unnecessary. Bunn’s transition as far as dialogue demonstrates a certain amount of evolution in the execution.
What has stayed consistent has been the pencil and ink work of artist Brian Hurtt. Aside from one issue with a guest artist, Hurtt has done every panel, every page of The Sixth Gun. He’s delivered a quality that is at times conventional and at other time penetrating. His work seems to anticipate the story beats, delivering lines and inks that are startlingly strong and poignant just as they are about to set the next movement of characters and story. The horror-fantasy elements, as well as the western context, are handled equally deftly, cementing the dual nature without ever letting one piece fall by the wayside.
Aiding that effort is the color work of Bill Crabtree. His palette is expansive, yet restrained, never moving beyond the expected, except when necessary for the story. It’s part of the grounded nature of the book, so that the horror elements evoke the type of suspense and thrills they are meant to in a relatively familiar world.
This world is familiar, yet it is not. The duality of which is the point and what makes The Sixth Gun such an exciting read month to month. Bunn and Hurtt have created a rich world of western horror, which has become a strong place to tell their tale. They have opened the gates, so to say, allowing the story to venture off in new directions, but stay ever close to the core of the book. It’s a thrilling and scary world that has no end in sight – even after this particular plot is finalized.