Cowboys, the latest graphic novel from Vertigo Crime, opens with two men in a Mexican standoff. There are blood and brains all around them as a shootout has just taken place. Before we learn who survives the showdown we cut back to five weeks previous, find out that the two men are Federal agent Tim Brady and cop Deke Kotto, both of whom are placed undercover at different ends of a massive criminal conspiracy with neither aware of the other’s existence. As their separate investigations heat up and they become recognize of one another merely as their false underworld identities, the reader’s need to know the result of their final confrontation becomes fucking unbearable.
As written by Gary Phillips (The Jook) and drawn by Brian Hurtt (The Sixth Gun), Cowboys is truly a no-bullshit western in the Budd Boetticher/Randolph Scott tradition only set in the modern day. (Oh and if you don’t know about the RANOWN westerns directed by Boetticher and starring Scott, fucking netflix that shit immediately.) Deke and Brady are men of no small flaws personally and professionally, but who will ultimately do the right thing in the end, no matter how violent it may be or costly it is on their lives or soul.
Gary Phillips keeps these characters at the fore of a complex world of criminals and cops, drug runners and terrorists, music moguls and fading starlets. I’d argue there’s almost too much story for such a small book, but the pacing and dialogue carried me through this motherfucker too fast to really dwell on it. Brian Hurtt does wonders with the stark black and white format that has become Vertigo Crime’s trademark, making the characters and their world pop on one page, then making the sex sexy and the violence nasty on the next.
Not all of the Vertigo Crime titles have completely hit with me, such to the point that I’ve been out of the loop on the series for a while now. But out of those that I’ve read, Cowboys easily stands tall with Jason Starr’s The Chill as one of the best to date. If you want some blurred-lines cops-and-robbers shit that feels like an episode of The Shield with some serious neo-western beats thrown in, Cowboys is the comic for you, dear reader, without a doubt.