Friday, February 26, 2016

Wynonna Earp

With Syfy’s upcoming television adaptation of Beau Smith’s monster-fighting US Marshall Wynonna Earp rapidly approaching, the time felt ripe to revisit the comics. I’ve been a fan of Beau Smith’s writing since his work with Tim Truman on the latter’s Scout series, his work on Guy Gardner: Warrior for DC, and his series Parts Unknown with artist Brad Gorby. He’s got a very down-to-earth, meat-and-potatoes, blue collar sensibility to his work, combined with a great deal of apparent love and appreciation for genre fiction, particularly, it seems, B-movie science fiction stories.

Having said that, while his name on a creator-owned project is enough to get my attention, I actually gave the 1996 Wynonna Earp series a pass when it first came out. (More about that in a bit.) It only lasted five issues, and then disappeared for like six years. In 2003, Smith revived the character with a different artist, Carlos Ferriera, at IDW Publishing. This version looked more to my liking. Sure enough, it felt very much at home with the rest of Smith’s oeuvre, and I got a huge kick out of it. Smith followed up that three-issue series with a graphic novel (The Yeti Wars), and that’s been it for the character, until her upcoming TV series was announced. Along with that comes a new comics series from Beau Smith.

In anticipation of the new series, I pulled my copy of The Complete Wynonna Earp off the shelf. The title is actually a misnomer; the book was published before Yeti Wars came out. For what it’s worth, IDW is publishing a new book containing the original Image series, the 2006 series, Yeti Wars, and the handful of short stories that have appeared featuring the character. There’s nothing there that I don’t already have in a bookshelf-friendly format, so I won’t be buying that.

Rereading the two series contained in this volume is almost like reading two different comics. As I said, I really enjoyed the 2006 revival, titled Home on the Strange. We meet Wynonna on a case that the US Marshalls would probably actually be involved with: mail theft. Only the perpetrators are zombies. Along with other federal agents, including the US Postal Service, she quickly moves in and takes care of the problem. 

However, on her way back to her home office in Arizona, her plane is attacked by goblins straight out of the Twilight Zone episode Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, only they are drunk, redneck goblins. It’s all part of a plot by a number of Old West outlaws, all ostensibly killed by Wyatt Earp, back from the grave, immortal, and using supernatural powers to take over the world’s crime organizations. Only that’s something they can’t do if there’s still a living Earp descendant, apparently.

So that’s the main thrust of the plot: a tough blonde woman and her friends—including a werewolf bounty hunter—versus the undead, immortal cowboy outlaws of Western lore. It’s fast-paced and energetic, and the art—despite the fantastical elements—has more in common with classic adventure comics or European work than flashy American superheroes. (Not that there’s anything wrong with flashy American superhero comics artwork… if your comic is a superhero comic. Which this isn’t.)

While the 2006 story does make passing references to the then-uncollected-and-long-out-of-print original series, it stands very well on its own as an introduction to the character. Smith sketches out the world and the characters economically, showing who they are and what’s going on through dialogue and action, not long exposition. It’s high-concept fun, and even at the time, I remember thinking that this could easily be a Syfy or USA Network original series, shot for a low budget in Canada. Funny how things work out.

I should probably mention the original series, which I also reread. However, I don’t want to dwell on it too much. This blog is called This Makes Me Happy because I want to focus on things that do just that. The reason I skipped the original series in 1996 was the cover illustration, which made it look like this would be just another series about an unrealistically proportioned and clothed woman who is a bad-ass mainly because she’s got guns and fights monsters in her bra. There were a lot of comics like that in the mid to late 90s, and this looked like just another one.

In general, I would say one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but in this case, I was right to do so. The first three-issue story isn’t much more than Wynonna coming to a southwestern town and shooting up a bunch of redneck, drug-dealing vampire bikers. For three issues. There’s no character development, nothing personal at stake, no suspense, no complexity, nothing. The next two-issue story, about Egyptian mobsters trying to take over the New York crime scene using a mummy, adds a little more depth, but lost whatever points it had scored for me when it found an excuse to remove all Wynonna’s clothes. As much as I generally like the artwork of Joyce Chin, I don’t think the first three issues of this series represent her best work. And the second story, with art by Pat Lee, appeals to me even less.

The 2006 series has a lot more to recommend it than just the fact that Wynonna is wearing clothes throughout the whole thing, but that probably is the single greatest selling point that got me to give the series a second look. And I’m glad I did. I enjoyed Home on the Strange enough that I was excited to read The Yeti Wars. I’ll talk about that in the next couple of weeks, probably, once I’ve had time to reread it. 

And I thought that would be the entirety of Wynonna Earp. I didn’t really expect there to ever be another comic, and I certainly didn’t expect a TV series. I’ll reserve judgement on the show until I’ve actually seen it, but the trailers make it look like the same kind of B-movie fun as the comics. And we get a new comic out of it, so that’s something. As long as it’s like the 21st century version of the character, and not the 20th century version, they’re starting off on the right foot.


  1. Poor girl couldn't even find a vest that fit until 2006, apparently. :(

    1. Yup. Fortunately, for the first issue of the new series, she has found all sorts of clothes that fit. Plus, she isn't even blonde any more.