Westerns are bursting at the seams with infamous towns and counties whose histories are written in blood. The city of Tombstone in Arizona, the town of Deadwood in South Dakota, these are places that birthed stories and legends about how wild the West really was, and how violent the men in them were. Chris Condon and Jacob Phillips already had their very own dark Western town in their Neo-Western comic That Texas Blood, a place called Ambrose County. Now, fans of Texas Blood get a kind of origin story for it in a new spin-off series called The Enfield Gang Massacre, a story that goes back to the time of cowboys to unearth the violent happenings that gave birth to the land future criminals will take up residence in.
The story centers on the pursuit of Montgomery Enfield, an outlaw with a gang of his own, that’s believed to have authored the grisly murder of a bank worker back in 1875. The people of Ambrose County, a small Texas town at this point in time, demand justice at any cost. A mob of angry people have decided this man’s particular killing demands justice be repaid in kind, a comment on how thin the lines is between legal consequences and revenge. Just how fair the whole ordeal will turn out to be remains to be seen, but things are pointing to a very messy end, something that’s given credence by the comic’s title itself.
Condon brings the same attention to detail to character development and world building that’s present in That Texas Blood. Both the people of Ambrose and the members of the Enfield Gang feel storied, complete with their own stubborn prejudices and ideals. It’d be easy to equate the world and character work done here with that seen in the crime films of the Coen Brothers, and while there’s certainly some of it here, Condon’s approach is specific enough to warrant its own space in the genre.
The same carries over to Phillips’s art, another showcase of nuanced character design and geographic cohesiveness. Phillips’s attention to character is as focused as that afforded to Ambrose County. Personalities and attitudes jump out of every person displayed on a panel, while the location’s essence is felt throughout. Phillips harnesses the violence Condon extracts from his dialogues and makes sure everything follows suit.
The coloring, done by Phillips along with Pip Martin on assists, makes sure there’s an aesthetic link to Texas Blood. There’s an interest in capturing an overarching feel to the story that places Enfield Gang in the continuum of Texas Blood‘s history. Every single element is tuned to that particular frequency, and it allows for a personal type of worldbuilding that favors the minutia of shared experiences rather than large scale events to hold everything together.
Special mention has to be given to the faux newspaper article exploring the titular massacre found in the last pages of the book. It takes the form of a special investigative report on the myths behind the massacre and how important it is to remember that facts are always pulling in one direction while local legends push with equal strength in the other. It puts the story’s essence on a slab for readers to dissect, inviting discussions on the nature of verifiable truth vs. agreed upon truths. I look forward to more of them.
The Enfield Massacre #1 promises a whole new chapter in the world of Ambrose County, giving it a longer narrative reach while opening numerous doors for more stories spread throughout the location’s history. Condon and Phillips are producing career-defining work here, and we’re lucky to be witnessing it one comic at a time.
Story: Chris Condon, Art: Jacob Phillips Color Assists: Pip Martin
Art: 10 Story: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Read and make sure you’re also following That Texas Blood.
Image Comics provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review