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Geronimo: Last Apache Warrior
Story by Eric Griffin
Art and Lettering by Chaz Truog
Published by Moonstone Books; $7.95 USD

With Geronimo: The Last Apache Warrior, Moonstone Books adds another figure from American Western mythology to its roster of Western icons, a lineup that already includes Wyatt Earp, The Cisco Kid, and Belle Starr. The Last Apache Warrior is a 64-page graphic novel that lives up to what I've come to expect from Moonstone's books, both in terms of their willingness to publish "genre" material that isn't aimed squarely at the mainstream, and the occasional sloppiness and the lack of polish that is often evident in their finished product.

"Call me Goyahkla," says an aging Geronimo, addressing the reader in the narrative's opening line. The first segment of the book is framed as a series of stories told to a member of Geronimo's last band of fighting men, a meagre group of 16 warriors facing its final battle. In the second chapter, the story is continued in the form of an epic-style poem, and in the final pages, a series of full-page drawings accompanied by "headlines" and narration paints the further history of Geronimo and his people. It's an interesting concept, and given a stronger, more focused plot and less self-indulgent writing (particularly in the poetic sequence, which makes a grasp at profundity without capturing it), it's a concept that could have worked. Unfortunately, in the final analysis, it doesn't.

As a a series of comic books (which appears to have been the original intent, given the book's format), I can't imagine how this work could possibly have succeeded, since there is no tension, no buildup, nothing to keep the reader coming back for more. As a single graphic novel, The Last Apache Warrior fares somewhat better than it would have in mini-series form, but it still lacks drama and flow. Certainly, there are some affecting sequences, such as the way in which Geronimo's words in the second segment of the story contrast with the pictures that accompany them. Here the mythology surrounding Geronimo is contrasted with the "warts and all" story of a youth who is defeated in a wrestling match, who is embarrassed when the girl he loves sees him lying on the ground after being beaten, who "was never bested," yet was turned back and pushed aside by a group of young women with their arms locked. The combination of artist and writer works well in this sequence, artfully playing up the exaggerations of myth against the more mundane facts of reality. But what we are left with is a series of vignettes, adequate and interesting on their own, yet not compelling as a whole.

As for the visual aspect of the book, Chaz Truog's inking and pencil work is impressive, and his page design is also very strong, particularly in the second section, where movement and action is skillfully depicted in overlapping panels, inset drawings, and a variety of framing techniques. Each "chapter" has its own distinct look - the first is strictly black and white, with cross-hatched brushwork and thick, heavy inking. The second part, which mainly deals with Geronimo's relationship with Alope, the girl who would become his wife, is rendered more softly, with Truog's pencilled shading adding depth to his inking. The final part returns to the simpler style of the first, with added detail and fine lines lending a documentary air to the chapter. Truog's art works very well, and I look forward to seeing more of it, especially Chiaroscuro: The Private Lives of Leonardo DaVinci, a Vertigo title co-created and pencilled by Truog. Truog's use of Native American artistic motifs throughout the book is a nice addition to the story told in his pictures, bringing a mystical aura to his work. Again, however, one wishes that Moonstone would pay more attention to detail, as some of the lettering guidelines show through in the final reproduction, and areas where the lettering has been corrected are still visible. A minor point, to be sure, but distracting nonetheless.

For those interested in the depiction of Native Americans in the history of American popular culture, Moonstone's Geronimo provides a viewpoint that is the polar opposite of past comics that have dealt with the life of Geronimo, books with titles like The Savage Raids of Chief Geronimo and Geronimo and His Apache Murderers. And while we may be rightly embarrassed at the treatment that Native Americans and other ethnic minorities have received at the hands of comic book writers and artists in the past, one wonders whether a treatment such as this one adds anything to the discussion. When we see Geronimo tearing the scalp from his enemy and holding it triumphantly above his head, it feels like the mere reporting of facts, despite the powerful artwork - there is no sympathy for Geronimo, but neither is there any for his victim. Geronimo's love interest is introduced only after the first battle sequence, and the motivation behind Geronimo's continued struggle is not fully addressed until even later in the story. Ultimately, a viewpoint in which the actions of characters are all portrayed as being morally neutral leads to the kind of absence of drama, heroism, or sympathetic feeling for any of the characters that mars much of this book.

The Western genre is ripe with possibilities, and I'll continue to look for that new Western that fulfills my expectations. Unfortunately, this book does little to make me believe that the Western comic book is making a comeback in any big way. Grade: 2.5/5

-- Jim Witt

Send review copies to:
Jim Witt
3311 Springvale Crt.
Burlington, Ontario, Canada
L7M 3Y6

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