“The Old West finally died in the 1980s. But we’re in San Angelo, Texas, and it’s 1978.” So reads the strangely round-the-houses back cover blurb for Humanoids’ The Big Country, which additionally proclaims itself “A Texas Noir full of heat and dust.” Given that it is scripted by screenwriter Quinton Peeples (Marvel’s Runaways) one might reasonably expect something tellyvisual to be on offer here, the only question being whether you are going to get a Cade’s County or a contemporary Deadwood. For those of you challenged in years the former was a 1971 TV series starring Glenn Ford as the titular sheriff of the titular county, a modern-day western of sorts – cattle rustling with jeeps instead of horses, walkie-talkies instead of telegraphs, and so forth – while if you really have to ask about the latter, it was a show about people who swear a lot, you oblivious cocksucker.
Surprisingly little profanity issues from the mouths of the principals in The Big Country, but it’s their actions that both invidiously and insidiously reveal we’re far from family-friendly Cade’s County territory here. Our hero of sorts is Sheriff Grissom Callahan, a third generation lawman living in the shadow of his daddy and granddaddy before him, quite literally in the case of daddy Clem himself. Wheelchair-bound Clem might be a few beers short of a six-pack these days but as Grissom is reminded, he “knew how to knock some heads so people stayed in line.” It’s people not staying in line that forces Grissom to step up to the bat, in doing so exposing his own unique brand of lawkeeping, and as events progress he and his fellow townspeople learn there are greater evils than the shooting that sets them in motion.
All well and good. But it doesn’t quite work. Maybe it’s the bland and even at times mechanical narration and dialogue Peeples serves, or maybe it’s the by-the-numbers art and design by Dennis Calero and Darick Roberston, a pair who between them have worked on X-Men Noir, The Boys and Happy!, but in the end The Big Country seems less than the sum of its parts. As the five chapter story moves through a bleak landscape of diners, bars and trailer parks, not so much heat and dust as plod and gloom, you find yourself asking why it exists in this form. Short story, yes, graphic novel not so much. But judge for yourself: it may be that somehow in the midst of this desert it’ll float your boat where it didn’t float mine, because with apologies to all concerned, this reviewer found it nothing more than a competent and ultimately unnecessary addition to an already woefully crowded GN Market. Mike Wild