Review by Win Wiacek
Once nearly all popular fiction was obsessed with tales of Cowboys and Indians. As always happens with periodic popular phenomena, a small cadre of frustrated devotees mourn its passing and, on growing up, resolve to do something to venerate or even revive their lost and faded favourite fad. A particularly impressive case in point is this captivating lost treasure originally published by independent, creator-led outfit Mojo Press in 1999.
As revealed in original publisher Richard Klaw’s informative introduction, Red Range was their most controversial release: an uncompromising adventure tale and deftly-disguised (a tad too much so, apparently) attack on contemporary racism and institutionalised bigotry, couched as an ultra-violent cowboy revenge yarn.
Originally published in stark monochrome, Joe E. Lansdale and Sam Glanzman’s amazing unfinished odyssey is adapted to full colour and given a new lease of life in this sublime hardcover edition. A word of warning: if your senses are liable to freak out at profoundly, yet historically accurate scenes of violence or repeated use of the “N” word as used by drawn representations of murdering racist bastards in white sheets, don’t buy this book. Actually, do buy it; just don’t whine that you weren’t warned.
In the late 19th century a band of Klansmen brutally torture a black family who have the temerity to buy land and plant crops. The ignorant butchers’ repugnant fun is mercilessly interrupted when a masked African-American vigilante known as the Red Mask attacks, killing many and driving off their leader Batiste. The unlikely avenger is too late to save the parents, but takes their son Turon under his wing. As they ride to his hideout, the lone rider confides in his youthful new companion. Caleb Range’s story is appallingly similar to the boy’s own tragedy.
Back in town, Batiste recruits a specialist tracker and plenty more white men eager to teach “coloureds” their rightful place. Relentless pursuit leads into the desert wastes and straight out of any semblance of rationality as Caleb and Turon survive fall into a lost world of ancient tribes and ravenous dinosaurs, with Batiste and his few surviving killers hard on their heels. In this place however, the so-superior white men are seen as less than human by the indigenous inhabitants: nothing more than prey and provender. Regrettably, they hold pretty much the same opinion regarding Caleb and Turon, who quickly discover they might not just be lost in space but also time.
Vivid, shocking, staggeringly exciting, ferociously uncompromising and often outrageously, laugh-out-loud funny, Red Range has both message and moral, but never for a moment lets that stand in the way of telling a great story. Adding value and enlightenment, this opening chapter in an extended saga is augmented by Stephen R. Bissette’s afterword which offers historical and social context, and inside gen on creators Lansdale and Glanzman, as well as a potted history of the role of black people in Western movies.
The bonus goodies continue with a silent monochrome masterpiece of action and bleak, black humour. ‘I Could Eat a Horse!’ is Glanzman displaying a firm grip of both killer slapstick and grim irony as Cowboy, Indian and other beasts go in search of a meal.
These fresh looks at an overexposed idiom prove there’s still meat to found on old bones. Cow-punching aficionados, fans of nostalgia-tainted comics and seekers of the wild and new alike can all be assured that there’s a selection of range-riding rollercoaster thrills and moody mysteries still lurking in those hills and on that horizon.