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DEADLANDS: Raven #1 $1.99
Publisher: Visionary Comics
by Alex W. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/16/2020 14:31:50

Ah, Deadlands. It's a game I love, but it has Issues up to the ears, and this issue has all the Issues. Racial insensitivity, historical insensitivity, little bit of the sexism that gets a whole lot worse towards the end of the story in further issues (the recurrent theme of women being identical empty vessels for their sexier forebears is...disturbing at this point)...oof. It also basically does for Raven what the Star Wars prequels did for Darth Vader, so if you want your badasses badass and a tragic backstory to have the true weight of a man's descent into darkness? Dare I say: "NOoOOOooOOoo."

---- essay incoming ----

The main faults are twofold, spreading cracks throughout: firstly, the story talks about systemic prejudice without understanding its nature, buying into the whole "hatred is bad; hating someone for killing your mother is exactly as bad as the guy who murdered your mother because he decided he hated her face one day" thing that divorces ancestral action ("he hated!") from collective responsability towards the collectively disenfranchised ("he hated, we let him, we scorned you as hate-filled when you asked for justice"). Had the throwaway girlfriend been given a little character, Paul/Raven (now there's a fascinating angle brought up and never discussed) could have run up fearing for her life and straight into a moment of character change not rendered petty or anachronistic (the notion of race would not be one Raven grew up with) when she, always safe, blinks at him and says "...but of course they didn't come to kill us, we're white." Tie the introduction of the notion of race to that traumatic moment. Have him hurl away the cross that should have protected him, screaming "WHITE GOD!" in accusation at the altar, deny his Christian name when Delicate Arayan Whatsherface seeks to reason with him and there and then reclaim his dream-got name of Raven.

The refusal to face systemic prejudice leads to a particularly grotesque moment where the protagonist is actually blamed for a real, historical massacre. Just...imagine if someone wrote an alt-history where their Romany protagonist personally offended Hitler and that was why 220,000 people got sent to the gas chambers, just to fuel their personal angst. An entire people. This adds nothing to the story, trivialises Native pain, and apologises for the Paxton Boys (which even the colonial government didn't) as a kind of inevitable force of nature, like the product of Summon Bad Guys rather than endemic imperialist greed. You want a horror story? Betrayal? Have Raven recognise a traveller who'd been that way before, prayed with him, perhaps, crushing some grandmother's skull. White men we'd seen smiling, singing hymns, kissing their children. After the above break with Christianity, have him fail to kill anyone in the heat of the moment: have him beaten down, left unrecognised as breathing among the dead, and then thrown into jail when he tries to attack a perpetrator yet uncaught when he encounters him in the street. Let Raven ferment that frustrated hatred, and when he gets out plan and so get away with far more killing than he would ever have done otherwise, this time of women and children first: striking horribly logical, chillingly understandable blows against the occupation's future on his people's land. A killing in the heat of the moment is an animal action or reaction, not a start of darkness. Killing in cold blood is what stains the soul.

Secondly, Raven himself lacks authenticity. We can't mourn his people because they're never more than generic (white) ideas of Some Natives, even when they're supposedly Westernised to being indistinguishable from colonists save for skin and that fatal better claim on the coveted land (the buckskins even reappear in the art with no explanation). We can't mourn his language because he dismisses it and all sympathy we might gain by listening to how he feels about being the last speaker. We can't buy the "love" affair because the girl is a passive pinup he never thinks of again and they were horny kids at the time. We can't believe his loss of family affected him much, because we never see what was lost in a human light. Take out the "people who aren't white men spend all their time talking about white men" scene and replace it with things like Paul's father teaching him to steam birchbark so that the seams lie perfectly together, to aim heart and breath at the bird and bring it down by the world's consent to his arrow's asking; Paul's shock at seeing his mother cry over the news of a village and cousins taken off the map by smallpox, their bafflement as to where the disease came from since the soldiers in the fort don't die, and what is different about them, in a world before genetic population resistance is comprehended? Basic showing not telling stuff.

Had I enough world and time I would personally rewrite and redraw this mess. As it, it sells a character short on character shorter; don't read it. Non-fans, Deadlands can do better in the hands of Marshals who care; don't read it. White men, this is what's wrong with our storytelling when we use shortcut tropes and perpetuate unjust ideas through refusal to reckon with anything beyond the shallows; don't read it. Everyone else, this will make you sad with its thoughtlessness; don't read it. Author, time, do better, in research and in general, and budget for hiring a sensitivity reader or two if you're not hiring diverse staff. Eesh.

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