The Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom
by Dan Brereton & Ted Naifeh
(Oni, 2002)

Dan Brereton's Nocturnals are a group of lushly painted heroes who happen to be monsters by most community standards. Their specialty is dealing with the unknown, the monstrous and the sort of horrors that require a more subtle approach than a silver bullet and girl with kung-fu skills. So when two of the group, the preadolescent Halloween Girl and her guardian Gunwitch, a sort of zombie scarecrow, find their own dark adventures in a cursed town, it's not surprising.

What is surprising is that the turmoil the two find themselves in, a turf war between two vampire gangs, is exactly what it seems. The Goodnight clan, a mafia-like family controlling their town, is involved in a series of clashes with a motorcycle gang of other vampires, with the townspeople caught in the middle. Despite double crosses and clashing goals between the vampire clans, it never gets more complicated than that; but that's plenty enough to get the Gunwitch interested in ending the whole thing. The fun and the drama is in seeing how it's done, and since the Gunwitch is a man-thing of few -- or actually no -- words, he has surprises aplenty for both vampires and readers.

Perhaps even more surprising to longtime fans of Nocturnals adventures is that Brereton has handed over the art chores for Gunwitch: Outskirts of Doom to Ted Naifeh. Naifeh's uncolored pen and ink lacks the sometimes bewildering glamour of Brereton's painted interiors, but he has an eerie familiarity with the characters and his sense of storytelling matches well with Brereton's visual-dependent writing. Naifeh's hard edged shadows and twisting linework is perfect for the more direct attitude of the Gunwitch and Halloween Girl, and the bright glare of the contrasting whites gives the nighttime scenes of vampire warfare the lonely feel of a spaghetti western.

Outskirts of Doom is a monster story with some unquestionably vile monsters, but it would be a mistake to call it a horror story. It's a showdown between spite and justice, a tale of star-crossed romance, a whole lot of gorgeous art wrapped around a story that doesn't waste its time. It's a glorious oddity, a treat and trick rolled into one.

by Sarah Meador
28 October 2006

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