"The Grave Doug Freshley" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Archaia Entertainment
Written by Josh Hechinger
Illustrated by mpMann
2011, 170 Pages
Graphic Novel released on January 11th, 2011
There's something about the western that speaks to all little boys. What's cooler than a cowboy riding through the Old West with nothing but his horse and a six shooter for company? Author Josh Hechinger may have the answer with The Grave Doug Freshley. The title character is a man that cheated death and won't stop walking this earth until he avenges the murder of his former employers. Along for the ride is young Bat McNally, the orphan of the family Freshley once worked for and his current pupil.
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On the surface, The Grave Doug Freshley is a simple revenge story. The fact that Freshley was shot in the head at point blank range and got back up makes it unique. This guy gets pumped full of lead throughout this comic but he keeps going, driven by the need for vengeance. He never loses his cool and he never shows rage at his enemies. He keeps everything in check for the sake of Bat, who is ever watchful of his actions. Freshley knows that Bat is at an intersection in his life. It would be terribly easy for the boy to walk the path of an outlaw, especially after seeing his parents brutally murdered right in front of him. If he's kept on the right side of the law, he might resist that urge and grow up to be a fine upstanding member of society. Fortunately for him, he's got a zombie cowboy helping him along.
You have to admire the character of Doug Freshley. This is the kind of fearless cowboy that marches right into trouble. He's not bothered by the fact that he's outnumbered and outgunned. He's doing what's right and he won't even let death stop him from seeing justice served. His undeath provides some comical scenes that can be a little over the top at times, but Hechinger makes them work. By the time these pop up, he's already established the story in such a manner that I'm not bothered by the fact that Freshley beats up a guy with the end of a pitchfork sticking out of his back.
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Artist mpMann sets the tone of the book very well. There's a balance between comedy and the stark reality that this pair finds themselves in. Freshley looks almost cartoonish with his gigantic cowboy hat and Bat is like a red-headed Dennis the Menace, but it never hurts the story. It makes the characters easily relatable and you're still concerned for them when the bullets fly. It's clear that mpMann is a fan of the genre as there are some panels that really capture those wide open plains you see in classic westerns. Hechinger doesn't clog up these shots with dialogue or exposition. The scene is set with a single shot.
The Grave Doug Freshley is a unique take on the western genre, which is something that's pretty sparse in the comic world. This could have been a very serious book about revenge and bloodshed, but that's not the case. It doesn't take itself too seriously and the story is better for it. Yes, there are cartoonish sections and some moments that will make you laugh, but it's a well-rounded comic about an undead cowboy. You can't ask for much more than that.