With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.
Of course, occasionally I may even explore comics outside of Marvel if they come highly recommended or simply peak my interest. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!
Artist: Scott Godlewski
Issues: Copperhead #1-5
The “Western but in Space” is always a fun setting. One of the reasons I was drawn to the original Starcraft, aside from my love of strategy games, was its grungy space theme. These settings evoke the freedom and anarchy of a Western setting, while infusing aliens and future technology alongside the familiar Western tropes.
So Copperhead‘s alien-Western setting isn’t exactly unique. What sets it apart is actually just how eager it jumps into all the tropes and stereotypes of the Western, while still having a ton of fun with them. Also, aliens.
Copperhead starts with a new Sheriff arriving in the old backwater mining town of Copperhead. Clara Bronson, like most folks in town, is looking for a fresh start from a mysterious (most likely tragic) past. She also has a son, a young boy named Zeke, whom she’s extremely protective towards. Sheriff Bronson is sullen, gruff, and serious – traits we often see in a Western badass, but rarely in women (not to mention that women are never the stars of Westerns. And single moms? Forget about it).
She’s partnered with Budroxifinicus “Boo,” who’s large, furry, and looks a bit like a giant gerbil or hedgehog. He’s equally serious and sullen. He was passed over for the job of Sheriff, and he’s none too happy about being deputy to the new human in town. There’s some interesting teases and brief flashbacks to a war fought between the two races, which humanity won thanks to the creation of artificial humans.
Sheriff Bronson barely gets time to get settled when a domestic dispute erupts at the Sewells. The Sewells talk and dress like your typical white trash squabblers, except they’re green, one-eyed, four-armed aliens. The comic likes to inject these fun little differences, reminding you that this ain’t your typical Western, even though just about every character and plot device very much is.
The main plot follows a horrifying homicide and investigation that occurs at the Sewells later on, as Bronson and Boo work to track down the Who’s and the Why’s. We meet the town doctor, a lecherous drunk whom I enjoyed immensely. There’s the owner of the mine, a Colonel Sanders-looking asshole who thinks the police along with everyone else in town work for him. The most interesting is Ishmael. He’s an “artie” and represents the lone gunslinger trope, fending off hordes of Natives (seemingly feral insectoids) while protecting Zeke.
Bronson has a huge problem with arties, and I definitely felt shades of Blade Runner. The artificial humans were created as infantry units for the war, and apparently one of the treaties created after the war was to recognize their rights. We never get a solid look at Bronson’s backstory, so it’s difficult to emphasize with her feelings and general outlook. Between her, Boo, and Ishmael, there’s a whole lot of serious drama and very little moments of levity.
The plot is completely wrapped up in the five issues included in Volume One, and leads to the fun twist of Mama Sewell becoming Zeke’s new babysitter, despite her and Bronson having a literal knock-down, drag-out fight in the first issue. At the very end we’re teased with a scary-looking dude in prison looking at a picture of Clara, presumably her baby daddy?
Copperhead does quite well mining the Western. It derives a lot of enjoyment from pulling out familiar tropes, both in plot and characters. I dig the low-tech sci-fi setting and the idea of tons of alien races eking out an existence together. Having the Sheriff be a woman and a mom is a unique and enjoyable twist, though she’s a tough character to like. The artwork is nice, and the action sequences, while rare, where particularly well staged. But I’m not sure Copperhead does enough to set itself apart from the stream of other excellent Image comics like Saga and Rat Queens.