That Texas Blood #1 Review: Every Western is a Ghost Story

That Texas Blood #1 Review - Cover
(Photo: Image Comics)

The final scene of No Country for Old Men offers plenty of space for the audience to interpret the dream of an old sheriff pondering his place in a brutal, uncaring landscape. Visions of Ed Tom Bell’s father are evoked in the light of day as he carries a horn of fire and the warmth it promises ahead, possibly forever out of reach. It’s a haunting moment and a perfect capstone to one of this century’s best films. That Texas Blood lingers in the sentiment of this moment. Sheriff Joe Bob Coates, the series’ protagonist, evokes shades of that story’s own lawman, and he carries dreams of his own father into this issue. The debut issue does not offer the same depth as Cormac McCarthy’s novel or the Coen’s film adaptation. It is not a disappointment in these pages, however, as it seems an impossibly high bar. That Texas Blood #1 marches into the same tone, themes, and genre explored in those seminal works and comfortably begins its own tale—one whose inspirations are clear, but still builds a narrative with its own intrigue and poignancy using that familiar language. It is promising, to say the least.

That Texas Blood #1 Review - Setting
(Photo: Image Comics)

The debut issue focuses on the day of Sheriff Coates’ 70th birthday. He lives in a small Texas town that appears to be nestled deep in the heart of Hill Country, and spends his days talking to his wife on the radio and handling local pest control problems. Most of his comments contain a careful, “Well,” if they include anything else at all. For those familiar with the forgotten stretches of flyover country, it’s a recognizable combination of characters and setting—exaggerated only for those lacking that familiarity. If that description sounds laconic, that’s because it is. The surface of this world appears to offer unlimited space and time, but that’s an illusion belying the tensions and trauma roiling beneath its surface.

That Texas Blood #1 reveals itself in two terrifying sequences before the final page, each of them playing against the steadfast layouts and careful pacing of a story comfortable resting in the moment. Playful humor gives way to a dream from the past—one that feels too close to aforementioned inspiration to be anything less than purposeful. However, this dream is much more direct and takes full advantage of the comics medium to make a single image land with a splash. The same effect is applied for the second moment of violence as well, and both link their horrors to the laconic surface which set readers at ease in the early pages of the issue. Even if parts of the dream lack nuance, the creeping images and tight paneling build tension every bit as well as what’s written. They are also smartly positioned to provide all the information a reader requires to understand Coates’ mindset—emphasizing character over a perfunctory mystery. Whether or not additional details are revealed, That Texas Blood always reads like it has far more on its mind than simply filling in the plot.

That Texas Blood #1 Review - Small Town Life
(Photo: Image Comics)

Jacob Phillips’ color work has been a boon to the pages of Criminal, emphasizing atmosphere in one of the best genre-focused series in modern comics. His skill in crafting atmosphere is evident in these pages as well—the Texas sunset is stunning, while the warmth of the land coats wide panels, and the pitch of night is made terrifying in comparison. This complements his figures and linework well, so that rough elements are given an impressionistic reading. Most panels have an element of grit within them, not refined for the outside world, but honest in the moment. While it’s apparent that Phillips is still developing his own style, the layouts are compelling and each panel functions with confidence. It would be difficult to ask more from an early introduction.

The impressionist quality also speaks to the blurred lines between daylight hours and memory in the pages of That Texas Blood. It’s apparent this is a land with dreamlike qualities, but filled with nightmares. Coates’ emerges as a man incapable of escaping a past defined by the violence of another generation. Blood and cruelty spill into the kindness and manners that provide Coates’ town a quaint, charming appeal. This tension between the world as it is imagined and a history that cannot be outrun is at the core of this first, and it serves as a promise to readers. That Texas Blood is a ghost story and a Western, and it questions whether there is a difference between the two. As it builds upon the legacy of other modern Westerns, which raised similar questions, it’s not difficult to see how the series may stand comfortably upon the shoulders of giants.

Published by Image Comics

On June 24, 2020

Written by Chris Condon

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Art by Jacob Phillips

Cover by Jacob Phillips

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