So one fatal mistake made by a notorious cowboy almost 150 years ago gifted us with poker’s ‘Dead Man’s Hand’? That’s right. One fateful August day in 1876, celebrated gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok shows up in Deadwood Dakota. Convinced he could never lose at Poker he casually walks into a saloon and takes a seat at a game. So sure of himself that he forgets his own rule that a man should never sit with his back to the door...
Sure enough, a few hours into the game and young unknown Jack McCall
enters the saloon. Without a word he draws his gun, and fires a fatal shot to
Wild Bill’s head.
As Robert Rath rightly says, Wild Bill’s luck ran out that day, but the last
hand he held while dying was to become as legendary as the man himself. Dead
Man’s Hand – the ace of spades, the ace of clubs, the eight of spades and the
eight of clubs.
How does he do it?
Robert quickly and cleverly draws us into the story with panels of
illustrations telling the story of what Wild Bill did that fateful day during
the final hours of his life. Bill and the other characters are brought to life
through realistic drawings with harsh, sharp lines that bring out the cruel,
ruthless life of the Wild West. The panels flow smoothly, supporting the story
and are only interrupted to give Bill’s background story and how he got his
name. Some might argue that this breaks up the flow, but this is not the case.
Instead, it helps build up suspense. Throughout, the layout cleverly leads the
reader through the story and the word bubbles fit into the composition
perfectly. The thickness of the panels doesn’t distract from the main
illustrations either; something that Robert Rath has been noticed for in the
His use of colour is interesting, sticking to brown and yellow hues and almost
dirty shading. Other colours are used sparingly but with effect, like the
grey/white of the people who aren’t part of the story, used for his admirer,
General George Custer, and his companion, Calamity Jane. Brighter tones are
used for the lamplight, the black and red of the playing cards, and the bright
red of the spattered blood after McCall kills Bill.
How does it compare?
In recent years, it’s been difficult to find a Western comic that hasn’t leaned
over to the ‘dark side’ – introducing supernatural beings and monsters. Among
the few notable exceptions is Jonah Hex.
Jonah Hex, is a hardened bounty hunter who appears to be the opposite of
Bill. But look a little closer and you see a man who wants to protect the
innocent; not a million miles away from Bill Hick’s law keeping days.
Like Dead Man’s Hand, the artwork on Jonah Hex is fantastic. The most striking
thing about him is, like Bill, he looks real. He looks exactly like you would
imagine him to. With his harsh face filled with lines and shadows. Admittedly
one could argue the likeness ends there. Jonah’s illustrator has made more use
of colour and his character doesn’t have the same ruggedness as Wild Bill.
Nonetheless, it has as equally a striking effect; colour or none, it’s the
realness of both characters that stands out to be noticed.
See the full Dead Man’s Hand Comic by Robert