THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘THAT TEXAS BLOOD’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Brandy Dykhuizen. “Well… they tell you everything will slow down,” sighs the internal monologue of Chris Condon’s protagonist in That Texas Blood. A fair thought to mull over on the morning of your 70th birthday, but the truth is, this opening line signals the deep inhalation the reader needs to take before tucking into this dark beauty from Image Comics.
Those first few pages lay the ground for a slow build, as Condon’s reticent sheriff, Joe, takes it all in—the gettin’ older, the mundane housecalls to keep his community safe, the day-to-day stability as predictable as a rattlesnake in a Texas western. Jacob Phillips underscores these sunset sentiments with twilight hues that focus on the here-and-now. Scenes one might expect in a sleepy desert town—chiseled dusty mountains, dino-themed gas stations—move over for snapshots of the inside of Joe’s house and mind. A mostly empty room with both completed and in-progress model airplanes holds newspaper clippings of triumphs and tragedies alike. Sheriff Joe isn’t one to run away from his past.
There’s a retro-noir tone Jacob Phillips shares to some extent with his Criminal artist father, Sean Phillips. But don’t confuse inheriting a talent with mirroring it. In That Texas Blood, the younger Phillips clearly connects with and cares about Joe, his wife Ruth, and the half-dozen other ragtag folks that are introduced in this stunning debut.
Cowboys are a proudly stoic lot, and illustrating that while also conveying their emotions to the readers can’t be an easy task. Phillips brilliantly utilizes every wrinkle and mustache to indicate a range of feelings that can be read just as easily through the shadows of a campfire as they are in the high-noon sun.
Condon, on the other hand, keeps things slow and steady as he walks us through just another day in fictional Ambrose County: His story sees Joe fulfill his Sheriff-ly duties, puzzle over whether beef jerky is healthier than dried fruit mix, and he tries to track down his wife’s missing casserole dish in time for his birthday celebrations later that evening.
There’s a scarcity of words in Joe’s real life, aside from an encounter with a comparatively chatty convenience store attendant. It’s in his dreams that the wheels are really turning. We get hints of Joe’s past in a scene in which a much-younger Joe listens to a fellow officer relate a traumatic story. We’re not given enough to go on to put the big picture together quite yet, but we’re definitely given enough to know we’re all-in for the rest of the series.
There also aren’t many contextual clues to the modernity of That Texas Blood. Mustaches and F-150s are timeless in those parts. There are some dusty Christmas decorations dotting the yard of one of Joe’s stops, but considering the homeowner couldn’t be arsed to get off his rocking chair and kill the snake in his own yard, we should probably assume it could just as easily be July as December. But that’s all well enough, as it seems our primary responsibility as readers is to suss out what’s eating at ol’ Sheriff Joe from the inside—time is less important here.
The combination of Condon and Phillips is brilliant—instead of a one-two punch, it’s a slow tug-of-war between internal and external forces. Phillips throws anticipation, anxiety, then terror at us while Condon reels us back in when we need it with some Sam Elliott-worthy measured speech and contemplative thoughts. It’s a rare book in which I find myself genuinely drawn to the character’s well-being as much as I am to the mysterious plot breadcrumbs Condon drops throughout. And with Phillips driving the roller coaster, who wouldn’t keep reading?
Image Comics / $3.99
Written by Chris Condon.
Illustration by Jacob Phillips.
8.5 out of 10
‘That Texas Blood’ #1 drops June 24.
Check out this variant cover to ‘That Texas Blood’ #1 by Sean Phillips, courtesy of Image Comics!