Spotlight Sunday 8.30.2020
My need to tell you to BUY THIS BOOK means there are fewer-than-usual spoilers ahead for…
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips, Jacob Phillips
Cover: Sean Phillips
That’s the reason we survived so long…
Because this world belongs to the monsters.
But Jeremiah was right about one thing…
It’s not exactly news when I say that I’m a huge fan of Brubaker and Phillips, both in terms of individual stories they’ve told and of their entire body of work. They are, unquestionably, one of the greatest storytelling teams in the history of comics. In all my years of reading what they’ve produced they’ve never once disappointed me.
And yet, despite how ridiculously high my expectations for them are, there are times when they manage to exceed them. This is one of them. Pulp is a very strong contender for being my favorite story of theirs, prevented from reaching that lofty position only because I love Sleeper so very, very much.
Normally when I write these posts, I relate a lot of the story, complete with spoilers, though I leave a lot out and encourage you to seek it out for yourself and not content yourself with my retelling. If I like something, I always want other people to pick it up and experience it for themselves, and the fact that I include spoilers is in no way meant to discourage that.
Even so, this time around, I’m not going to spoil much, because I really, really think you should buy this book and experience it for yourself.
I will, however, provide some of the broad strokes of the basic plot, and get into what makes this one stand out, even for something from Brubaker and Phillips.
Our story begins with, well, beginnings.
More specifically, we begin in New York in 1939, though there’s an immediate disconnect between what we’re told is the setting and what we see on the next page, which finds us in the Old West observing a showdown.
As the apparent hero of our story rides off, victorious, into the sunset with his partner, talking about how the two of them may head on to Mexico, find themselves some Mexican girls to settle down with, and begin a new chapter in their lives, we find that this is a story within a story, a story that writer Max Winters has just turned in to his editor at Six Gun Western, a western pulp magazine.
The editor likes the story, but decides that the last bit about moving on from the gunslinging life should be struck.
The news only gets worse from there, as Max learns that his usual rate has been reduced considerably, and he walks out of the office with a meager $120 for his efforts. And it gets even worse from there when he’s in the subway station and finds two punks harassing a young Jewish man, and, forgetting that he’s not the man he was forty years ago, decides to intervene.
It’s not so much the beating he receives that gets him as it the mild heart attack that he has in the course of receiving it. The punks take his money and run, leaving him there, helpless.
Just before I blacked out, I remember thinking…
If I survive this…I’m going to be really pissed I lost that hundred and twenty bucks.
He comes to in a hospital sometime later, but prior to that, we get a flashback that, in terms of style and setting, is similar to the story within a story we saw at the beginning, and we get our first hint that the pulp adventures Max has been eking out a living by writing are not works of fiction, but are instead fictionalized versions of his own life as an outlaw and gunslinger.
Max returns home to a woman named Rosa, and provides some additional hints – but little in the way of details – about his past, and he keeps the information about his worsening heart condition to himself, as he doesn’t want to worry her.
He sets to work on a new story and brings it in, but his editor isn’t terribly interested in it, as it seems, with the last story Max brought in, he has three Red River Kid stories lined up. Max asks how this is possible and discovers that he has been replaced by the editor’s nephew who will write the stories for half of Max’s already-reduced rate.
Later, Rosa suggests that he take his mind off his troubles by taking her to a movie, and he agrees.
After nearly having another heart attack, and thinking about the ways in which history tends to repeat itself – often more forcefully each time – he notices something that catches his eye: the box office receipts being loaded into an armored truck.
Max decides that if his new way of living can’t provide for Rosa, maybe the old way can. But as he attempts to return to his outlaw past, his outlaw past returns to him in the form of an old acquaintance – of sorts – who takes the story into a very different direction.
And while the plot twist that follows is, in some ways, predictable, that doesn’t make it any less of a gut punch.
And that’s where I’ll leave it, with no further spoilers.
Your key takeaway from this is that you should BUY THIS BOOK.
Beyond simply providing an engaging and compelling story, illustrated as always to perfection by Phillips, Brubaker fills this relatively-slim volume with so much to think about, from the aforementioned repetition of history – what was happening then is happening now, just as it happened before – to a meditation on aging and the cost of a life of violence, and a look at how, despite the repeated themes of history, life is always about new beginnings.
And it’s all told in a pulp-infused package, filled with gritty action, seemingly bleak philosophies that still contain within them a hint of hopefulness, a meta-narrative that mirrors the main story in many ways, and it’s all just perfect.
When this was released several weeks back, my comic shop only got one copy that had already been sold by the time I got there, so I had to place an order to get it, and I’m mad that I lost the time in which this story could have been in my life, but am grateful that it’s in it now.
This is a story that is in many ways unlike anything that Brubaker and Phillips have done before while somehow being the perfect exemplar of the kinds of stories they tell.
Seriously, BUY THIS BOOK!
That does it for this Spotlight entry.
(And go to whatever LCS you have or that you find and BUY THIS BOOK!)
As something of a reminder, the stuff I do on this site brings in even less money than Max’s cheap replacement was making, so just remember that…
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