Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s “The Sixth Gun” is a book that defies classifaction (although that, itself, is kind of a classification in a world of lazy criticism). It genuinely deals with so many tones and genres so well, though, that it simply refuses to be pigeonholed. It’s a western, sure, but even its heroes and villains don’t hew perfectly to Old West Archetypes. It’s a horror book, sure, but its supernatural elements are so effectively tied to grit and historical realities of its setting. It’s the kind of story that could really only effectively exist in comics, as a self-propelled creative endeavor. As something that two people clearly just enjoyed building on in conversation until it became too big and wonderful to not be pulled into the world as art.
The sixth issue ends its first storyline in oversized fashion, big in every sense of the word. It contains extra story pages and nearly every single page that is included spreads across two pages for at least one of its panels. The story has been building to the climactic climax, The Battle of the Maw, which explodes here into a fight between outlaws and demons and ghosts and zombies and animated golems carrying rifles. Hurtt never misses a step here, which itself is a spectacular achievement. This is easily the most complicated issue of the series to date, and yet it’s always easy to follow, and the storytelling is perfectly paced.
One of the most remarkable things about “The Sixth Gun”, is that this book has been on time for six months in a row, all without any drop in quality. In this day and age, you sort of expect one of two things in the comic industry: If the art is great, the book will be late and if the book’s schedule is more important, a fill in artist will be showing up before too long. But here, Brian Hurtt and colorist Bill Crabtree have been consistently fantastic in their work. In fact, “The Sixth Gun,” every month, has been one of the best looking books on the stands. Hurtt’s line work is distinctive and strong without losing any of the fluidity that makes it so versatile. Crabtree’s colors complement the art perfectly, making things look gritty and muddy when they need to, and ethereal and otherworldly when they story turns inevitably towards the macabre. It’s a testament to the professionalism of the entire team working on the book and, really, when a book like this ships on time, there’s no excuse for anyone else anymore.
“The Sixth Gun” is fantastic comics. It’s a great example of how well monthly comics can work within Oni Press’ creative sensibilities, and how comics in general can flourish when its only limitations are an adherence to an established tone. As breathtakingly outlandish as things have gotten in Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt’s incredible story, there is never a moment that feels unearned, or that doesn’t hew to the rest of the story. And when you’re dealing with the reanimated corpse of a Civil War general dragging his own hovering coffin behind him with practically self-animated chains, that is certainly saying something.