What defines the Western genre? Is it the patched terrain, the harsh way of life, or the six-shooter-wielding cowboy on a revenge mission who braves the sun and lawlessness of the wild west? Perhaps it is the scarlet pool of blood spilling out from hot lead wounds as vultures circle to feed on carcasses. Above Snakes from Image Comics throws in a little bit of everything with a twist, lacing a grim western tale with fantasy elements. Spearheaded by the creative team of writer Sean Lewis, artist Hayden Sherman alongside letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, Above Snakes #1 takes the readers on a ride through the treacherous desert sands in search of vengeance and justice.
Set in 1866, Above Snakes #1 opens in the Genesis desert, where a medicine show peddling miracle cures offers readers a different kind of blend for the soul. A man named Dirt is looking to find his wife Dorothea’s killers, but for now, he is too lethargic to get up from the desert floor. An ethereal bird flies in the sky, circling the sun while hurling insults at Dirt. Speck is a golden vulture acting as Dirt’s guide in this blood-soaked wasteland. It takes him south to a town called Lazarus, where Dorothea’s abductors, the Above Snakes gang, might be hanging out and taking young women from their homes. Upon reaching Lazarus, however, they find the situation to be much worse.
like any western, Above Snakes #1 follows a brooding, reticent protagonist with a thirst for blood and a hunger for revenge. Writer Sean Lewis uses the opening splash page to capture time in small bottles, each panel depicting the chronology of events leading to Dirt’s predicament. The accompanying narration boxes provide enough exposure to set the ball rolling. Even though his name is as unimpressive as his scrawny stature, his acts are exceptional. A separate narrative runs parallel to the main story, painting Dirt as a badass. Above Snakes #1 has enough grit and mystery in the plot for exciting storytelling that bodes well for the series.
Hayden Sherman’s artwork gives the world of Above Snakes a wacky look, a far cry from the hardened reality of Westerns. Be it a frenzied shootout or a stroll through the desert, his continuous lines and erratic hatching create a stylized aesthetic that plays well with the moody script. Sherman uses complementary colors, from a dour shade of maroon to vivid shades of cyan, producing striking panels. While Dirt looks like any other cowboy on the trail, the black poncho and pants make him stand apart from the rest of the tawdry bunch. His gruff face gives away the rage in his tired eyes. Letterer Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou has the most fun in the creative team, using different fonts in different situations, all giving off an antiquated look.
Above Snakes #1 is like a gloomy ballad strummed on a heavily tuned guitar, telling a rising story in the dry winds full of violence. The vibrant artwork and colorful language, coupled with the steady yet descriptive narration, create a haunting tune that adds depth to the book. That said, the overall plot remains trite, a movie or book that has been played or seen before. What it brings to the table is a dabble into fantasy as Speck is the perfect comedic partner to Dirt, often giving him a reality check and at times demanding his fill of blood. Above Snakes #1 began with a promise of good storytelling and kept its end of the bargain.