Written by: Eric Powell
Art by: Kyle Hotz
Publisher: Dark Horse
The Authentic Accounts of Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities is a neat comic that draws on a ton of legends, lore, and myths to create a darkly comic horror tale. Basically, Billy the Kid WASN’T murdered and instead spent his days touring with a freak show to avoid being jailed as he would most certainly be wanted if people knew he were alive. While on his travels he gets wrapped up in plots that involve famous people and monsters (and monstrous people) such as H.H. Holmes, Dracula, and Frankenstein. And yes, it’s about as wild as it sounds.
This omnibus collects all 3 of the Billy the Kid tales in a nice collection that’s easy to read in spurts. The individual tales are easy to determine with its large chapter pages that clearly identify where each story begins and ends. The better part is that they don’t divide up the individual tales so they meld seamlessly into each other, which is nice since each individual tale ends on a cliffhanger that teases the next adventure. The chapter intros also done with beautiful full page artwork that usually hint towards whatever evil Billy is going to fight.
The story and characters are phenomenal in here which is surprising because stories involving freakshows are often hit or miss for me. I feel like all too often there’s a reliance on the unusual appearances and the macabre rather than creating characters who are actual people and it’s nice to see that Eric Powell understands the need to make likeable characters. There’s some really great ideas that get thrown around as well, such as society’s quick decision to condemn people who don’t look “normal” while the same people usually have monstrous personalities. And even Billy the Kid gets in some nice quips when people denounce the various “monsters” about how the words they shout are the same words his mother used to shout at him. My only fault with the overall designs are that there’s some reliance on older tropes when it comes to some of the freak designs (Siamese man! Tattooed Woman! World’s Smallest Boy!) and I’m really not too crazy about the design of Watta because it borders the line of being racially offensive (although I’m willing to overlook it due to the simple fact that freakshows often did include Africans who wore stereotypical “jungle” outfits so people could gawk at the “wild African jungle man”). Powell writes these characters all extremely well, however, and there’s quite a good amount of character progression as well. The Billy the Kid we meet in the first half is not the same Billy the Kid we see at the end, and Jeffrey (the little man) probably had my favorite overall progression.
In fact, these humanizing components were some of my favorite. In the second tale there’s a remarkable piece regarding the Elephant Man. The Elephant Man has been drawn here in an over-exaggerated way but the small speech he gives is made all the more remarkable taking into account the fact that he was a real person. His panels regarding his humanity, while humanity fears him and is even disgusted by him, is darkly uplifting and provides some excellent commentary regarding the invisible thrones we place people on and how quick we are to judge as well as how we choose to handle ourselves within society. I loved when Powell dug into things like this and I wish there had been more, although there were certainly enough to go around.
All of these characters serve to highlight the excellent tales. One of the things I enjoyed immensely is the way that Powell blended in a ton of lore and mythology. My favorite tale had to have been the second one, in which our band of freaks travel to London while a slasher is making headlines for killing people. There’s also characters that reminded me of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and famous serial killer H.H. Holmes makes an appearance. It’s a neat little blend of things that serve to highlight how bizarre the real world can actually be while still lending some great elements of fiction to the overall story. Which is also apparent throughout the omnibus, such as the aforementioned piece with the Elephant Man.
Kyle Hotz’ art is gorgeous to look at and him and Powell together are perfect match. Every panel is highly detailed and there’s a ton of attention brought to clothing, facial expressions, backgrounds, and just about every thing within a panel. It helps give the impression that characters are in a very dynamic world and it was a perfect fit for the stories within. His full page panels are an absolute delight to look at. A particular panel involving the Elephant Man is particularly shocking. Hotz also draws violence and gore in spectacular ways which becomes apparent in the stunning finale. As a whole Hotz is pretty good at drawing various horror elements and the final tale draws on a ton of things to drive the comic into a pretty deep realm of horror that draws on everything from Victorian influences to Lovecraftian influences. It’s wonderful and gorgeous to look at among the horror and Hotz manages to draw the various monsters, creatures, and freaks in great ways. Besides Dracula’s various goons, the creatures involved all have really varied designs which keeps the comic from becoming stale. I personally liked the reptile man the most and seeing the various designs of the tattooed lady’s tattoos was a small delight.
Altogether, this omnibus was a ton of a fun and a great read. Billy the Kid provides a decent amount of humor throughout the book and it keeps it from being a completely dark tale, which it really turns into in the final story. The characters are interesting and likeable and the tales themselves weave interesting stories that latch onto us and make us keep reading. I’ll admit that I was bit sceptical at the thought of a Victorian-inspired horror tale involving Billy the Kid of all people but Hotz and Powell manage to make it work in the best of ways.