Book Review: Caliber: First Canon of Justice (Volume I)
Publication Date: July 7, 2009
Publisher: Radical Books
· Sam Sarkar
· Garrie Gastonny
by R.J. Carter
Published: May 24, 2010
What don't I like about Radical Books' Caliber? Mostly the fact that I didn't think of it first. Sam Sarkar's high concept of retelling the story of King Arthur in an old west milieu is creative genius. The transposition of the sword Excalibur into a gun which can only be fired by the prophesied lawbringer -- and then only in the service of the law -- is intriguing, and the recasting of the knights of the round table into a sort of "Magnificent Seven" of Telacoma (the fictional setting for Sarkar's tale) is such a simple one that, like I said, I'm surprised it hasn't been done before.
In Sarkar's tale, Arthur Pendergon is the son of Captain Ulysses Pendergon, himself killed during a meeting between the soldiers and the Nez Perce natives in a setup arranged by a crooked railroad magnate. Arthur is then raised by his Uncle Hector with his cousin, Kay, until adulthood when he returns to reclaim the family property. Having transformed into a handsome figure of a man, he finally can attract the attentions of the buxom Gwen. But his reunion with his crush is short-lived as he faces down an angry cossack defeated by Kay at a shooting competition. With no firearm at his side, he reaches for the pistol at a bunko target booth. What he doesn't realize is that the gun (that won't fire for anybody who plunks down their dime) is magical, and being watched over by the shaman Whitefeather (in the Merlin role). In Arthur's hands, the gun makes a noise like a cannon, and takes down his opponents while simultaneously leaving innocents unharmed.
As the adventure unfolds, Arthur and Whitefeather are joined by Bedver and Lance (the latter, one Mr. Lake, finds himself forever haunted by spirits only he can see and hear), while the villainous Talbot avails himself of the mystical abilities of a tarot reader named Morgan.
For fans of the Arthurian legend, the concept is definitely a fun one and Garrie Gastonny's painted interiors are often breathtaking, particularly when he gets the bulk of a page to a two-page spread to work a panel.
I do, however, have some aught with the story. Naturally, being a graphic novel told initially in pamphlet installments, I get that there has to be some measure of story condensing. But with Caliber, I think there was probably some good bit lost in that process, as we jump between scenes without much in the way of transition. Along with that, some of the peripheral characters are rendered to look too much alike, which generates some literary hiccups that cause you to go back and re-read a passage with a corrected understanding of the players.
Problems aside, there's something magical in the offing here, and I'll be interested in seeing where the plot takes this once-and-future lawbringer.