The Long Haul
By Antony Johnston and Eduardo Barreto
Published by Oni Press; $14.95 USD
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The exquisite storytelling of artist Eduardo Barreto is the key appeal of this straight-ahead old west heist novel. Barreto, a longtime veteran of Marvel and DC whose last thankless job that I can recall was pencilling the extraordinarily lousy title Marvel Knights turns in a first-rate job, using a consistent, confident line to illustrate Johnston's snappy script with stylings reminiscent of such masters as Joe Kubert and Gil Kane.
Kane, especially, seems to influence how Barreto presents figures in the story, the angles at which the human form is presented, a turn of the wrist, the cock of a head; all pay tribute, intentionally or not, to one of the finest illustrators ever to work in comics. Given how much Kane enjoyed a ripping yarn, there's little doubt he would have enjoyed seeing the energy and wit put into service of telling the story of The Long Haul.
Cody Plummer is the mastermind of the caper herein, an ex-con who did time for a number of bank robberies, but who now has set his sights a good deal higher. It's the "One Last Job," plot, not at all unfamiliar, but Plummer and his varied cast of co-conspirators and enemies are so well-delineated in both script and art that the story's firm foundation of pastiche accounts more for added appeal than distraction. There's a true multi-cultural bent to the tale, featuring as it does Native Americans (and a nice, factual nod to the apocalyptic culture war waged against them by white-skinned invaders), an indignant Spaniard who is continually mistaken for Mexican, an Irishman, and others. Given what a mish-mash of cultures and peoples the old west was, the choices of characters and characterization enriches the story and Barreto's depictions of the people and places in Johnston's script are extraordinarily convincing.
The caper itself is intriguing, centering on the ingenuity needed to rob what was probably the safest, most secure train-car yet devised at that time. In this scenario and others (I'm thinking of a tense poker game early on, too), neither Johnston nor Barreto cheat, but rather provide a close-up look at the methods by which the various schemes in the story are carried out.
I was a bit disappointed in the very ending, the last two or three pages seeming to come to a rather abrupt halt. I understand the effect that Johnston and Barreto were going for, but the quick end to the tale followed by a movie-style "What Happened Next to These Characters" text piece did not seem, to me, to be completely consistent with the intimate and energetic presentation that leads up to the story's conclusion. The entire package is so well-done, though, and the story so engaging, that this can only be considered the most minor of quibbles. The Long Haul is the best western graphic novel I've read in a long time, and the choice of genre is, at this late date, both bold and extremely welcome. It's difficult to imagine a reader who wouldn't be entertained by this classic, exciting and well-told tale. Grade: 4/5
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