Red Range by Joe R, Lansdale (1999)
Pigeons from Hell by Joe R. Lansdale (2009)
On hand are two graphic novels by hisownself, Joe R. Lansdale, who has put his East Texas stamp on the genre.
First up, Red Range, a wild western adventure illustrated by Sam Glanzman. We open with the Klan terrorizing a family of Black ranchers...the father has been tied to a porch post, his eyes gouged out with sticks, his genitals set on fire; his wife, beaten and raped; his young son thrown down a well. This group of sadistic racists is led by Batiste, a hulking man who just oozes evil. Suddenly a rifle shot rings out and three of the Klan members are felled by a single bullet. A masked rider comes roaring forth, both guns blazing, and more Klansmen die. The rider heads off and, from behind a rock, kills a few more baddies with a well-aimed Sharps rifle. Back on his horse, he shoots a few more. The surviving Klansmen scatter, leaving Batiste alone. Batiste then flees in fear. The rider then manages to rescue the boy from the well.
The masked rider is Red Mask, a black man named Caleb Range who has sworn vengeance on the Klan after Batiste killed his wife and son for daring to own some land and to try to farm it; Caleb had even gone so far as to go into a store to buy things as if he were a white person. Batiste had Caleb wrapped in barbed wire and dragged behind a horse, and then threw him off a cliff to finish him off. Caleb, however, was made of sterner stuff, surviving even after a hungry bear had pulled his body from a river.
While Caleb and the boy, Turon, hide out in a cave, Batiste has gathered some more men and hired a tracker to hunt down the Red Mask. That was not a great idea. Many of Batiste's gang are killed and Caleb and Turon escape across the badlands on a single horse. Batiste and his crew follow. Caleb and Turon are forced to make a stand by a riverbank after Caleb's horse dies of exhaustion. Batiste's men reach them as it begins to rain like stink. More of Batiste's men die before the Red Mask's guns as Caleb and Turon are swept away in a raging river. The rain has weakened the bank, a tumultuous flood then sweeps Batiste and a cohort away, down the river and over a large waterfall.
Then things get really strange. There's a hidden underground world, dinosaurs, some Black conquistadors, a graveyard of ancient ships, and more than a smidgeon of violence. Hey, it's Lansdale, after all...
The book ends with the promise of another adventure, "The Pirates of Fireworld," coming soon. As far as I can tell, though, the Red Mask's adventures never made it to a second volume. Too bad -- Lansdale, Glanzman, and Caleb Range were a winning combination.
The second book under consideration is an adaptation of Robert E. Howard's classic short story, "Pigeons from Hell," with artwork by Nathan Fox (his first solo effort at a comic book). Lansdale has taken Howard's tale and updated and expanded it.
Janet and Clare Blassenville, descendants of slaves, have inherited what is left of the Blassenville Plantation, located in a swamps of Louisiana. The plantation was the sight of many atrocities against slaves and was abandoned shortly after the Civil War. Anna, a slave and a hoodoo woman, placed a curse on the place in retribution for the murder of her baby by Diedra Blassenville, a daughter of the estate. As the curse worked its way through her family, Diedra was the only one left until she herself vanished. The plantation was left to the lase remaining slave in the Blassenville will; it has stayed in the slave's family ever since, even though no one ever approached the place.
Janet and Clare, along with friends Sally, Billy, and Jason, decided to travel to inspect the property. The house is in terrible condition, rotting through, surrounded by pigeons. (In the old legends, pigeons are harbingers of death, of course.) Even though it is the middle of summer in Louisiana, inside the old house it is cold, bone cold. As they explore the house, they find a large mound of dead pigeons in one room on the second floor. They decide to leave but as they go down the stairs, Billy steps on a rotten part and falls through, breaking his leg. The other four carry him to the car and race to get him to a hospital. A deer jumps in front of the car, forcing them to swerve, landing in a lake. They manage to get out before the car sinks, but now they are alone and wet in the dark of night, with a severely injured Billy, and the only place for shelter is the Blassenville plantation. But there are pigeons there...and the curse.
Shadows of dead slaves rise from an old graveyard, forming to create a great shadow wolf. An that's outside the house. Inside the house is the thing that Anna summoned years ago when she cursed the plantation, the shadow in the corn.
In the house, Jason is separated from the others. They hear him scream. It's a dead Jason who comes down the stairs, his head split open by an axe. Jason attacks them, but the girls get away, Clare and Janet in one direction, Sally in another; injured Billy is not as lucky. Running, the Clare and Janet stumble upon a lone lawman, hunting the swamp for a jail escapee. He doesn't believe the girls' story one bit, but Clare and Janet insist on going back to the house to find Sally. The lawman -- and his gun -- accompany them.
Then -- this is Lansdale, remember -- things get a bit weirder. They meet up with Alcebee, the sentinel who stops the evil from spreading beyond the plantation. Alcebee is getting old (really old, he's a hundred fifty-year-old former slave) and weak. Soon he won't have the strength to hold back the evil. There's a snake of fire, a search for the heart of a sorceress, more ghosts, a confrontation with the shadow in the corn, and lotsa blood. Did I mention the dead ghouls?
This is not your daddy's Robert E. Howard, kiddies. But Lansdale does manage to stay true to Howard's vision while giving it his own twist. Nathan Fox captures Lansdale's take on the story quite well. The book also includes some background information from Lansdale, a perspective on the story from Howard scholar Mark Finn, and a look into how Fox approach the artwork, as well as full color samples of related art from five other artists.
Lansdale is at home with the comic book form and these two books stand well with his novels and short stories.