Sixth Gun – The 2015 Weekly Writer Challenge: Cullen Bunn (Part 1)
52 weeks. 52 different writers. 2 trade paperbacks or hardcovers a week. Each week I’ll take a look at a different writer and read two different collected editions from within that person’s repertoire to help in the examination of their work.
Cullen Bunn first started to emerge in the comic industry back in 2007, creating the horror noir series The Damned for Oni Press. This was the earliest collaboration of Bunn and artist Brian Hurtt, who is a frequent contributor on their current Oni Press series, The Sixth Gun, which began back in 2010 and still runs strong today. Together the two have been mainstays with Oni Press for years, although Bunn has now rose in prominence and creates monthly comics for major publishers like Marvel and DC Comics. Cullen Bunn currently works on so many different series for multiple publishers that he’s often referred to as “one of the hardest working men in comics”.
The Sixth Gun Volume 1
In the midst of the Civil War, General Hume was a wicked man who unleashed hell on his enemies with ease out in the Wild West. Wielding a mystical pistol that allowed him to see into the future, General Hume was regarded as a master strategist who was nearly impossible to defeat in battle. Arming his allies with five other similar pistols, each with their own unique abilities, Hume remained a powerhouse until he was unexpectedly overthrown, being killed and buried on holy ground so that it was neigh impossible for him to rise again to wreak havoc on the world. Years later, Hume’s wife, Missy, sets out resurrect her husband and put his gun back into his hands. The only problem is that an ill, old preacher has come to own the pistol, which can only be taken from a person when they are killed. Just as the preacher is about to pass the pistol down to his step daughter, Becky Montcrief, Pinkerton agents for Missy attack the Montcrief homestead and kill him. Acting quickly, Becky picks up the gun and becomes its new rightful owner, allowing herself to get captured and interrogated by Missy. Meanwhile, the mysterious Drake Sinclair is hot on Becky’s trail, attempting to gather together the six guns for his own personal agenda. With a slippery man like Drake Sinclair unknowingly on her side, Becky must fight tooth and nail beside her new ally to stop General Hume from rising again while also trying to discover the mystery surrounding these six guns.
Cullen Bunn combines western with fantasy to create the addictive “The Sixth Gun”. Set shortly after the Civil War, Sixth Gun embraces its western roots but blurs the line between action, adventure, and fantasy in the meantime. A slick shootout can quickly dissolving into a battle against a mystical beast under the guidance of the sharp-witted Bunn, who seems to find something for everyone to enjoy in this story. There’s no way to dispute the western influence on the story, from the way the characters walk, talk, or dress, to the use of six shooters or shotguns and even the wacky settings, ranging from saloons to deserts, canyons to fortresses, and everything in between. The Sixth Gun is what I’d call part of the “weird western” genre that gets thrown around nowadays, referring to your typical western genre with some form of wacky twist, similar to books like Pretty Deadly or East Of West. Bunn balances the weirdness and the western out perfectly though, easily appeasing fans of both genres who might feel fearful about combining them together.
Cullen Bunn does so many things right with The Sixth Gun. Everywhere you look across this six issue collection, you just see writing done right. The first place to start has to be with the character. I’d say there’s maybe four or five primary characters with nearly double that for secondary characters. Bunn manages to find just the right amount of characterization for each character, fleshing them all out in an appropriate manner and never wasting page or panel space doing too much or too little. It’s almost as if Bunn was a chef following the measurements for the recipe for perfection and just absolutely nailed it. Your primary protagonists in Drake Sinclair and Becky Montcrief are engaging, dramatic, mysterious, and everything else you could ever ask for in lead characters. With Drake Sinclair you get an immediate sense of a hero that could easily be a villain, he’s a little bit Indiana Jones with Sawyer from Lost. You can clearly see that he might not have been a good man back in the day, but he’s clearly trying to be a good man now. It’s a facet of the character that keeps you interested in him from start to finish, as Bunn leaves enough out there for the reader to figure out on their own while also filling in the pieces of the puzzle as you go. By the time you learn more about his past, you have a complete understanding of who the character is, what he’s done, and why he did it. With Becky Montcrief, you get a bit of Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz mixed in with Princess Leia from Star Wars. She’s a woman who is integral to the larger part of the picture but doesn’t want to be in the painting. Her initial resilience is what drives her to actually come around to care about what’s going on around her. Then she inevitably ends up being one of the strongest cast members, capable of taking care of herself and not being this constant damsel in distress. If anything, Becky Montcrief is a character who, at times, appears like she is dangerous to being pigeonholed into certain character tropes only to then shuck that norm and be something different. One of the most refreshing parts of this story is that fact that Becky is strong enough on her own to trust Drake when it comes to helping him save the day but distrusting him when it comes to anything else. Not that I’m trying to spoil the story for you, but it’s such a relief to see that these two lead characters don’t end up falling in love at the end, like maybe a thousand mediocre writers might have tried to do. Cullen Bunn deserves a lot of praise for making layered lead characters who aren’t cardboard caricatures of characters we’ve seen before.
In terms of your other characters, your primary antagonists in Missy and General Hume are just as interesting due to the influence that the six guns have on them as well as the story. Missy Hume is a woman who seems dead set on resurrecting her husband (ha, what a pun) but also ends up being strong enough on her own that, when things don’t go as planned, she doesn’t immediately crumble. She’s dastardly, evil, and clearly more intelligent than she is given credit for because of how much she goes out of her way to play second fiddle to her husband. Hume is a fairly straight forward antagonist in that he just wants his gun back so that he can “rule the world” so to speak and return back to his former glory. He’s a character that is, as I said, interesting but also someone who can easily be swept away in favour of growing a larger story, something Bunn seems to be aware of. Around these antagonists, Bunn also manages to build some cool lackies for the Humes to command. The four horsemen who wield four of the six pistols are all unique characters that suit the weapon they carry, ranging from a broad shoulder powerhouse whose gun packs the power of a cannonball, to a sickly man with a bag over his head that makes your body decay with a single shot. It’s all rather “four horsemen of the Apocalypse”, a reference that isn’t lost on Bunn as he still makes these supporting villains interesting in the ways that they can affect the action in the story.
The pace of the story is a triumph in its own regard, as each and every story beat or reveal hits at the perfect time or moment. From revelations about Drake, to death-defying action sequences, or even epic showdowns years in the making, Cullen Bunn clearly knows how to structure a story arc with acts that tell their own fulfilling story while also lending to the overall narrative. Your first act of the story centres on introducing your characters, showing you who they are, what they’re after and sets them on the path for whatever they’re after. The story spins around with Becky agreeing to come along with Drake which leads into the second act that reveals more about the characters, gives you some good action beats and sets the stage for your epic finale. By the time the third act rolls around, Cullen Bunn is allowed to let everything hang loose and goes at it full throttle, lobbing mouth water action scenes with delicate character moments to give the reader a solid payoff in the end. It strikes the bell in the right way time after time and keeps going from there. It’s fantastic that this is an ongoing series that could have completely ended after this first volume and have been regarded as a wild success in the medium of comic storytelling. You’ve got a clear beginning, middle, and end, but it leaves the door open to carry on forward, which any reader should do if they enjoy the first volume as much as they should.
Collects: The Sixth Gun #1-6
Best Character: Drake Sinclair
Best Line Of Dialogue/Caption: “The Devil? No…but I do his business from time to time.” – Drake Sinclair
Best Scene/Moment: The battle in the Maw – Issue 6.
Best Issue: Issue 6 is the no-brainer choice for this one. It’s a high action showdown between Hume and Sinclair, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The stakes are high, the character moments are exciting, and there’s plenty of moments that’ll make your heart skip a beat or make you feel sad for the tragic things that happen to certain characters. This is weird western at its finest with a strong sense of characters, action, drama, and everything else you could ever ask for from a comic book series.
Why You Should Read It: The Sixth Gun is weird western done right. Cullen Bunn makes a near perfect comic arc with this first volume as it shows you all you need to know about the characters and story while being perfectly paced out. There’s a clear three-act structure, interesting characters, snappy dialogue, beautiful artwork, and so much more that I’ll be here all day if I try to list it off. This is simply the standard for
good great writing in comics. Cullen Bunn is fantastic on what is easily some of the best work of his career with The Sixth Gun.