The charm of the spaghetti western has never quite faded from pop culture. The iconic soundtracks of Ennio Moriconi, the imposing figure of Clint Eastwood’s nameless gunslinger and the “against all odds” endeavors of the Magnificent Seven have ingrained themselves in our psyche. In recent times, the sensibilities of the spaghetti western have bled into other genres such as sci-fi and fantasy. One need only to examine the success of Logan to appreciate the lasting influence of the genre. They offer a sense of adventure, but an ennui that often reveals the futility of the cast’s actions in the long-run. They focus on the little victories for people caught in a circle of violence with one inevitable conclusion. The Six Swords is by no means the first attempt at translating this style of story-telling to comics, but it may be one of the most successful attempts at emulating the look and feel of its predecessors.
The Six Swords is set post-apocalyptic wasteland wherein the style and culture of the Wild West has re-emerged because if you can’t have a little fun during the end-times, when can you? For reasons beyond their understanding, six mercenaries are pitted against each other by the local warlord. They understandably don’t take too kindly to this manipulation and vow to rid the land of its oligarch and hilarity follows. As one might expect from an ensemble piece that draws heavily from the book of Tarantino, each of the titular Six Swords all bring their own brand of humour, fighting style and sociopathy to the table. The comic never attempts to convince us that these are the “good guys” by any stretch of the imagination. While they are certainly the protagonists of the book, they fall squarely into the anti-hero/chaotic neutral bracket. Not much is revealed about their backstories in the first two issues, but the banter between the character is enough to keep the flow of the action scenes going and turn each fight into an opportunity for character development. It is in the heat of battle that these characters truly come alive and are willing to open themselves up to the readers. The designs of the characters themselves resemble archetypes found in the spaghetti western from the silent stranger to the cocky gentlemen, but they each subvert expectations in their own ways. How very Tarantino-esque.
As large a cast as the book has, its core creative team is nearly as expansive. With three writers on duty (Chris Massari, Matthew Perez and Melchor Sapiandante), one could be forgiven for thinking that it would lack a unifying vision. Not so, instead the series manages to balance its subtle, contemporary, sociological satire with the traditional spaghetti western elements in a manner that many budding authors aspire to, but few manage to achieve. A common argument from a certain category of disgruntled comics fans is that they want politics removed from their books, not recognising that this is impossible as every work of art is political in that it is informed by the author’s experience and belief. However, the problem is that some writer’s attempts at messaging are clumsy and heavy-handed which in turn alienated the reader. The Six Swords avoids this trap by recognising that nuance requires trusting the audience and acknowledging that material can be read on multiple levels. For those that just want a romp, the creative team have certainly provided, but for those wanting to look deeper they will also find something to appreciate in the post-WWIV badlands.
This series excels in both the intensity of its fight scenes and the visual humour that often strolls into Monty Python territory. The initial meeting of the Six Swords in an excellent example of how the book blends the humour into its gory and unrelenting fight scenes. What begins as an escalating Mexican stand-off, quickly turns into an all-out bar brawl with our ensemble not necessarily fighting as a team, but working together to avoid imminent death. It’s expertly executed and displays a brutality that comics can occasionally veer away from. As charming as some of these characters may seem in their conversations, the ruthless efficiency with which they dispatch their enemies and the palpable joy they feel is fully realised in the artwork. These men are cold-blooded killers and artist: Ryan Cody wants you to remember that.
There is a sense throughout the comic that we are reading a pitch for a classic Toonami show from the early 2000s. What Samurai Jack did for the Kurosawa brand of action movies, The Six Swords does for the spaghetti western, reinvigorating the genre in the popular consciousness with a stylistic twist and an extra blade or two thrown in for good measure. The comparison is more apt than you might think considering that The Six Swords is heading towards a crowdfunding model, whereas the return of Samurai Jack was likewise fueled by fan demand, albeit not monetarily. If the team continue to produce this dark comedy-action title with the same love and devotion they’ve shown the first two issues, then readers will be in for a wild ride in the not-so old west.
A review copy was kindly provided by the publisher.