West of Sundown #1 promises a monster crossover in a time and region that was a mashup of cultures and beliefs, all while carrying on a love affair with Hammer Horror and Leone Westerns mixed with historical fiction. The story, paired with emotive characters, moody colors, and small historic details, create something more than what I expected. The potential exploration of monster mythology in the Wild West and bringing in European folklore, coupled with my general love of vampires, are why I was drawn to West of Sundown.
Billed as a vampire western and co-written by Tim Seeley and Aaron Campbell (his first writing credit), West of Sundown feels like a celebration of horror folklore. The cover is Hammer flick meets Western, something to be found on a cinephile’s prized collection of vintage movie posters, which only heightened my expectations for the visuals and vibe of the comic. As if I were not already sold on the premise, my great-great-grandfather used to preach in bars, and I always wondered what stories he held back from his children about his time living in New Mexico in the mid-to-late 1800s. (In my personal head-cannon, my great-great-grandfather lives in the West of Sundown universe.)
The first issue is character-driven and carries an overall theme: who are the angels and who are the monsters, and how is this defined for a character forced to question their own motives? There is an undercurrent of “otherness” with an “us vs. them” mentality, all of which is demonstrated from the beginning by starting the story during a war.
We are introduced to Dooley O’Shaughnessy, an Irishman in a Confederate uniform attempting to bury bodies on a bloody field in Manassas after the first battle of the Civil War. Dooley is a merc with a serious case of Mommy issues who hears a bell ring and, rather than burying a young lad that he killed, decides to dig up the poor soul already buried in a casket. He is a confederate soldier, so this left me with an eyebrow raise – am I supposed to end up caring about this character, and what could be a redemption arc? It is a bold choice that frames this as a story about human monsters. Jim Terry’s art goes a long way in expanding this idea, conveying the emotional crisis and conflict in Dooley’s eyes, which turns to awe when his savior rises from her coffin looking unfairly glamorous after waking up. Constance der Abend – a vampire wearing what I imagine is a very uncomfortable corset– saves Dooley from the war by giving him purpose, and his reaction to her presence is conveyed brilliantly, giving us a nod to his backstory, more of which is revealed later in the issue.
Miss der Abend, a sophisticated and somewhat vain vampire and opera singer, doesn’t turn on Dooley. The depiction of their relationship in the first issue makes me very curious about what will happen between the two in the future because rather than leaning into a potential for romantic entanglement between the characters, or Constance going for the convenient, post-vampire nap meal, she offers salvation. There is some sort of bargain between the two, and Dooley serves her and shows a serious willingness to go to any lengths to save her in a perilous situation. Throughout West of Sundown, I asked myself, “why would he do that?” and “what is her motivation?” The writers give us a glimpse of Dooley’s, but Miss der Abend remains a mystery.
There are details throughout West of Sundown that serve as foreshadowing, some of which I did not pick up on until the second reading. It is very easy to get lost in the question: “what is this entire series going to be about?” because the first issue led me on a journey I did not expect to take. This gave the artist multiple opportunities to indulge in different settings and colors to match the mood and location while successfully combining western and horror vibes. The ultimate demonstration of the blended genres is a robbery of a stagecoach that goes very wrong for those perpetrating the crime – except instead of gunshots, we get a very hungry vampire.
West of Sundown is a solid first issue, with nuanced, carefully balanced homage to multiple genres and the potential for a detailed backstory and lush worldbuilding. The ingredients to create a universe of monster mythology in the Land of Enchantment are all there, and the entire team does an excellent job of weaving together something that left me excited to get my hands on issue two.