It’s the height of the railroad boom in the Wild West. Chester Kates, better known as Bloody Chester, or, much to his chagrin, Lady Kate, lives as an outcast in the town of Averill. After yet another fight with some local townsfolk, railroad tycoon Shane Croghan gets Chester out of jail and offers him a deal he can’t refuse: for forty dollars, head west and burn the abandoned town Whale to the ground. But as Chester approaches Whale, it turns out to be more complicated than he thought. It seems a mysterious plague has stricken the town, but left a few survivors in Chester’s way, including the pretty and strong-willed Caroline; the cunning, but frequently drunk Potter; a madman in the hills; and a dying priest. Before he can incinerate the town and collect his reward, Chester has to convince all four to leave Whale and its hidden secrets behind.
Written by JT Petty and illustrated by Hilary Florido, Bloody Chester tells a somewhat compelling story for adults and teen readers that is not without flaws. The book jumps into the action without too much explanation, forcing the reader to fill in gaps and figure out the initial character relationships, before quickly moving on to the primary mystery. At the core, Chester, and in turn the reader, is trying to figure out what has caused the plague in Whale and why the remaining townspeople will not leave. Luckily, this question is engaging enough to keep the pages turning and the reveal is mostly unexpected. Chester himself is a likable enough anti-hero, even though his back story and motivations are a bit sparse. The other characters are also interesting with some flaws, but there is not much time to establish their relationships and give the reader much to care about. The mystery and character development have promise, but start to fizzle and end with a whimper after only 140 pages. The Wild West setting provides an interesting background to the story, but also lends some problematic elements. Many characters express extremely racist views, that while period appropriate, might upset modern readers.
The art fits with the story — like the setting and the characters, it’s a bit gritty around the edges. For the most part, the character designs are well done and consistent throughout, but often within panels the characters’ facial expressions are static and some of the illustrations look sloppy. The panels are varied and show differing perspectives, giving a bit of a cinematic feel to the book. The cover is also striking, but doesn’t quite match the tone of the book. Yes, it has violence, but the overall feel of the story is a bit more subdued than the cover suggests. Printed in full-color with thick glossy pages, the book certainly looks nice, but, overall, the contents don’t quite match the packaging in this mostly forgettable debut graphic novel.
by JT Petty
Art by Hilary Florido
First Second, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 14 and up