Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Daisy Kutter: The Last Train

It’s not like WKA (Women Kicking Ass) hasn’t been done before. James Cameron launched the underwhelming career of Jessica Alba as a WKA in the short-lived Dark Angel and more recently J. J. Abrams made a star out of Jennifer Garner in Alias.

We’ve also seen WKA in Westerns in the form or
J. T. Edson’s recurring character of Calamity Jane modeled after the real one, of course. And robots, we are familiar with (anyone remember George Lucas)?

And it s not sci-fi and westerns haven’t been combined either:
Joss Whedon did that on TV (Firefly) and later adapted it to the big screen (Serenity). But a WKA in a sci-fi western? That was a bit new for me, although only just.

Daisy Kutter is like the version of Calamity Jane romanticized by popular literature. She is a reckless adventuress, a sharp shooter with nerves of steel. Her blond hair is curled under her ears, her head covered by a wide-brimmed Wyatt hat decorated by a band made from silver buckles. She has also bid farewell to her former life of robbing banks, stagecoaches and trains and now runs a small supplies store in a small unnamed town. When her job bores her to tears she picks up some toy dart guns and nails every object in the store. Her ex-partner, still romantically inclined towards her, makes her cringe. She dismisses him and consigns him to a heap of other things she wants to forget along with her past. She is desperately trying to turn over a new leaf. But it goes so against her grain that she is clearly struggling.

In the graphic novel
Daisy Kutter: The Last Train, the writer and illustrator Kazi Kibuishi does a marvelous job sketching out the essentials of Kutter’s character using clean, well defined lines PhotoShopped to perfection in various tones of gray. As a writer, Kibuishi has the considerable talent of narrating with short bursts of dialogue, which makes the comic sound both playful and grown up and also frees up precious space to pack in a lot of detailed action.
And as in all good sci-fi westerns, robots show up all over the place and play an important role in the action.

The plot of The Last Train starts off with Kutter being approached by two entities – a human and a robot paranoid about discrimination by humans – who offer her an undisclosed sum of money to rob a train. Kutter refuses and dismisses them. Later, she is drawn into a card game of Texas Hold ‘Em and manipulated into taking up the offer. The rest of the comic shows us the train robbery and its aftermath.

While Kibuishi keeps things entertaining through the series, you get the feeling he misses a few tricks. As a visual medium with the most alternative audience, comics can afford to take a lot of chances and being populated with maverick rebels who enjoy turning things on their heads, stories have become wildly inventive. The Last Train starts off with a promising premise but it is positively staid in its execution. In all cases but one, you can predict the surprise coming from quite a few panels away.

More than the comics themselves (there are four chapters, each of which was published as a separate comic during its first print run), I enjoyed the additional material Kibuishi provides in the graphic novel. There is a small section on how he renders each page that was quite interesting, more so because the illustrator admits that drawing, which is a high point of the novel, is the least favorite part of the process for him.

Later, in the best section of the book, he invites his artist friends to render their version of Daisy Kutter. And in reimagining Kutter in dozens of interesting and unique ways, the artists reveal their styles, preferences, interests and environments. It’s a fascinating study on how different people can use the same medium, dwell on the same topic and come up with such a superb variety of interpretations, no two being the same.

No comments: