Wyatt Earp: The Justice Riders
by Richard Dean Starr, Dan Dougherty (Moonstone, 2008)

Wyatt Earp: The Justice Riders isn't really a graphic novel at all.

Sure, it looks like one from the outside. The slim volume from Moonstone Books fits nicely on a shelf full of graphic novels and comic-book collections. So I wondered what it meant on the cover, where it said "A Wide-Vision Graphic Novel." Huh?

Well, Justice Riders is really just a short novel by Richard Dean Starr. Perhaps a novella or novelette -- I didn't bother counting the words, although it seems too long to be a short story. Each page of the book boasts a single black-and-white drawing by Dan Dougherty, leaving an inch or two above and below the picture for text. Sometimes, the illustration straddles a pair of pages.

Frankly, I don't care much for the format. Call me a hidebound purist, but an illustrated novel is not a graphic novel, and vice-versa. A graphic novel promises a certain style of presentation that is lacking here, so when I started reading I was already disappointed. (Nothing against Dougherty's work, which is nicely rendered throughout.) I only hoped the story would make up for the visual lack.

It didn't. Starr's story contains a nugget of good Western adventure, but it rushes along with a series of improbable events and chance meetings that never gels.

The story begins with Wyatt Earp keeping the peace in Dodge City when a letter comes begging his help. He calls upon fellow lawman Bat Masterson to call in a few favors and arrange the temporary release of Apache leader Geronimo from military custody; why Geronimo is needed for this mission is never made clear, unless it's simply the fact that there are Indians involved. Earp and Geronimo, both legends from American history, quickly meet and join forces with fellow legends Annie Oakley and Belle Starr, as well as the entirely fictional Cisco Kid, in a series of contrived encounters. Together, they borrow heavily from Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom and The Mask of Zorro to put an end to an illegal mining operation and free the slave miners.

Perhaps an actual, full-length novel would have told this story better. In this form, however, Starr does neither the characters nor the plot -- nor, for that matter, Dougherty's artwork -- justice.

review by
Tom Knapp

10 July 2010

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