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14 november 2011
I have been intrigued for some time by the small, square Mexican comics that appear in one of my favorite supermarkets. I've been wanting to read one, but couldn't justify yet another impulse buy at the checkout line. Then I looked at the price: eight pesos, marked up for the U.S. market to $1.25. I'm still at the point where I have $1.25 to spare, especially for pulp Westerns.
The most recent issue of El Libro Vaquero is Traiciones Fatales [Fatal Betrayals]. I opened it ready for a very pulpy experience indeed. On the cover is a girl in honey-colored hair, her breasts drawn with compasses and bulging out of the plunging neckline of a dress that appears to be made from a thin plastic garbage bag. In the background, a horse and rider appear to be attempting a somersault. A diagonal banner in a corner of the cover advises "para su venta à mayores de 18 años" [for sale to over-18s]. I wasn't sure if I needed a brown paper wrapper to read this one in.
Come to find that the comic is quite a bit tamer than the usual supermarket Western novel. In fact, its slow development and emphasis on character places it in the genre of thinking-man's B Western, or perhaps one of the more acceptable episodes of Gunsmoke.
After a bank robbery, two of the thieves go free while their accomplice is captured. Four years later, he leaves prison and tracks down his two friends. They've done well for themselves; all he wants is his share. One of them, Sammy Chase, seems to be in favor of cutting young Dean Trevor into the swag. But the other is Berton Lawford, and, well, let's let young Dean Trevor characterize Berton Lawford:
Lawford is in line to become judge at the next election. He's gotten in line by killing the last judge, and muscling into a relationship with, if not the affections of, the spherically-bosomed cover damsel. Many pages and panels pass, and then there's a showdown in the dusty main street. No clocks are in evidence, but presumably it's high noon.
There's no reason why any of this has to be forbidden to under-8s, let alone under 18s, though there are some scenes of violence to horses, and at one point Dean Trevor gives the town sheriff a well-deserved kick to the cojones. OK, I suppose I might not give it to somebody under 9.
Despite being the essence of pulp itself, the comic is skillfully drawn and told. For instance, in the panel above you may be wondering why a small hand is pointing into Dean's ear. That's Dean's own hand, extending from a smaller-scale version of himself in the adjacent panel. Artist Rodolfo Perez Garcia is a pro at telling different panels from different perspectives, and mixing up the arrangement of his pages.
The story is pure formula – I'd bet more than eight pesos that you can't not find its faithful forerunner somewhere in the corpus of Western fiction. But it diverted me on a night when I needed it, and how much more can one ask from any work of fiction?
Varela Robles, Fernando. Traiciones Fatales. (Argumento: Gary West; Dibujo: Rodolfo Perez Garcia; Portada: Pegaso; Color Digital: J.E. Mendoza.) El Libro Vaquero, No. 1507 (2011).