Hayden Fryer has another chapter in his Australian Western - Cobber - for us, and it doesn’t disappoint. So far, we have all the hallmarks of a great story: corrupt land deals, lone riders with hearts of at least gold plate, and the fierce, rugged attitude of those who’ve had to scrabble and scrape for everything they’ve got. It’s often joked that Australia is a place that loves to kill people, from the highly venomous and aggressive wildlife to the arid and dusty climate, it’s not an easy place for people to really thrive. This setting only adds levels to the desperation and determination of the cast, and helps to fuel the plot of high-stakes gambles made with lives.
The stage had been truly set for things to get cooking with the first issues laying the groundwork, and Fryer knows it’s time to cut things loose for some action. The pacing spikes in those sequences, but he doesn’t let it push the overall feel of the book as a whole. Sure, fisticuffs in a flatbed make for some pretty exciting and quick pages, but in the moments away from that he still manages to keep the tension of the arc as tight as a violin string, allowing the increased action to provide a counterpoint to the slow play of the villain, creating a wonderful dramatic dichotomy that highlights each against the other. The first page is exciting but retains the tone so well that it's frankly just impressive. So far, the characters haven’t really jumped out of their stereotypes much, but there’s enough small detail that has come through to suggest that they’ll grow to something more. Whether that promise is fulfilled will dictate a lot of what this book overall will become, so I’m excited for the possibility.
I’ve always been a fan of clean lines and fluid action, so I’m not exactly enamored with Fryer’s art style, though the rough-and-tumble feel to it certainly aids the tone of the setting quite well. It feels like a work given life by its world, so I think my issues are just personal preference, as I still think it lends itself quite well to the story. One thing I truly appreciate is the in-your-face nature of the work, much like Pan’s Labyrinth (though not as upsetting). There’s no pulling away from the grittier parts of the violence, and it’s not really romanticized.
The action is, however, and makes for a strange brew of all of its parts that makes this book stand up and demand recognition. This is a great, creator-driven kind of project that shows a love of the craft and a dedication to making a story interesting and vital. Western lovers should certainly take note; this is a good one.
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