REVIEW: Cobber issue 3

By Ben Kooyman

In the aftermath of a deadly shoot out, a mysterious and deadly Gunslinger has tracked the lone survivor, Eddie Stewart, to his outback home town of Durham. Meanwhile in town, simmering tensions continue to escalate between the two-fisted rule of the Stewart family and many of the impoverished townsfolk. After crossing paths with the local mechanic Roxy and her mother Ellis, the Gunslinger finds himself the only one standing between the two feuding families.

In the first issue of Cobber, written and illustrated by Hayden Fryer and reviewed last year on Australian Comics Journal, the end of Robert Stewart and his band of bruisers’ 20 year feudal rule over the town of Durham is heralded by the arrival of a mysterious gunslinger. The third issue opens with a literal blaze: the home of town mechanic Roxy, whose father the Stewarts killed twenty years earlier, is set alight, whilst the gunslinger is on the receiving end of a violent beating by the Stewarts. The battered antipodean ronin, hurtled from a speeding vehicle, is nursed by Roxy and her mother while Stewart Senior orders his family of thugs to finish what they started…

In my earlier review of Cobber #1, I noted the influence (whether direct or osmotic) of such Western touchstones as Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, the Hatfields & McCoys, William Wyler’s The Big Country, and Sergio Leone’s Dollars films on Fryer’s comic. The influence of the Dollars trilogy is particularly felt in Cobber #3, as well as their Japanese precursors, Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sanjuro. The gunslinger, depicted in a mysterious, mythic light in the first issue, takes on altogether more human proportions here: stoic in the face of thuggery, vulnerable to a beating, and warm in Roxy’s company, in which he fulfils the titular mantle of cobber. He’s also, like Toshiro Mifune’s samurai and Eatswood’s Man with No Name, not above some sardonic mirth.

Fryer’s black and white artwork is busy and heavily textured, but focused largely on human drama and interactions rather than action set pieces, and on human faces in all their coarseness and sadness and silliness and imperfections. Those faces are vaguely rubbery, not quite natural, with a dollop of Kabuki mask and a smidgen of Picasso-esque abstraction that heightens their expressiveness. The result is that Fryer’s archetypal antipodean western thriller possesses a heightened human and dramatic core. With its stakes steadily escalating from issue to issue, Cobber is a series worth your time…

Cobber #3 is available via Siberian Productions.

About Ben Kooyman

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