This graphic novel, initially published (in black and white) in 1999, would appear to be the wild card among Joe Lansdale’s comic work. As with many of Lansdale’s comic book scripts, RED RANGE is a “Weird Western,” a category that also informed the better known Lansdale scripted JONAH HEX minis. RED RANGE wasn’t nearly as well received, and has largely vanished from sight in the years since its initial Mojo Press publication, so this new edition, which comes with a newly written introduction by Richard Klaw and afterword by Stephen R. Bissette, is most welcome (and it’s in color!).
As both Klaw and Bissette make clear, RED RANGE seemed a bit excessive and out-of-place in 1999. This was because of its racial overtones, which are delineated in a decidedly blunt manner; check out the opening pages, depicting a black man being mutilated in a truly horrific manner by Ku Kluxers, who also rape and murder his wife. Bissette claims these images resulted in his copy of the ‘99 edition getting kicked and tossed around in a manner not dissimilar to the treatment of the victim depicted in those pages.
Now, sadly, such racially-tinged ugliness no longer seems as excessive as it once did. In fact, it could even be viewed as a commentary of sorts on the Trump era—and anyway, perhaps it’s a good thing that so many of its early readers abandoned RED RANGE after three pages, as the going doesn’t get any easier from there.
The lynchee of those early pages is the father of young Turon, who is saved from perishing at the bottom of a well by an African American bandit known as The Red Mask, a.k.a. Caleb Range. The latter’s own family was killed in a manner not dissimilar to the fates of Turon’s parents, and by one of the same Ku Kluxers involved in the more recent massacre.
There follows a relentless chase through the Texas wilderness, in which a great deal of blood is spilled, several animals are massacred and a certain word beginning with “N” is voiced repeatedly. Then a most unexpected twist shifts this tough and unsparing saga into LAND OF THE LOST territory, complete with dinosaurs and a radical recalibration of the racial divide of the earlier pages. It concludes with the promise of a sequel that never appeared.
There will be (and have been) those who claim the incendiary nastiness of RED RANGE’S early pages doesn’t jibe with the loopy fantasy of the later ones, and they won’t be entirely off-point. But I quite enjoyed the joyous collision of tones and genres, a trademark of the fiction of Joe Lansdale, who was at his wildest here.
We mustn’t forget the artwork of Sam Glanzman, a veteran comic book artist who’s been around since the 1940s. His art in RED RANGE is appropriately tough and hard-bitten, yet doesn’t shy away from giving us a good view of the dinosaurs and other fantasy elements that come to populate the book.
As a bonus, a short piece called “I could eat A Horse!,” written and illustrated by Glanzman (and initially published in the 1996 anthology WILD WEST SHOW), is included. A tough sex page depiction of death, decay and cannibalism, “I Could Eat A Horse!” makes for an excellent companion-piece to RED RANGE, complementing its more unruly aspects while nearly taking the place of its nonexistent sequel.