Tim Gibson has been doing some amazing and inventive things with his Moth City series. He's been at the forefront of the digital possibilities of comics, as well as putting a unique twist on some rather standard comic genres like war and horror and action. Now he's taking a step back to provide context and characterization to his larger series.
With his new one-shot, Moth City: The Reservoir, Gibson adds “The Western” to his stable of genre explorations, and, through this choice, takes the standard black and white morality inherent in it and adds hues of gray. Gibson's Moth City has always been about the difficult choices we are forced to make in the intersection between circumstances and our own moral compass. How Gibson's characters respond defines who they are, as much as how others perceive them. They live in a morally relativistic world where what is clearly right for one is horrific to others, and where disease can quickly undermine all sense of human endeavor and control.
Gibson tells the “origin story” (if you will) of McCaw, one of the main characters from his larger Moth City series. He does it by eschewing dialogue, allowing his artwork to tell his story, and frames it with a series of didactic panels in which he pushes his singular tale into the realm of the universal – making McCaw's story that of the pioneer, the individual who creates through his own volition, the prototype and archetype one in the same. It also becomes a story of family, a theme central to Moth City, and how that concept defines, imprisons, and propels us.
Of The Reservoir, Gibson has said that he “wanted to take the classic Western themes and internalize them in the characters rather than the landscape.” While his intent is both admirable and artistically interesting, I'm not so sure he pulls it off entirely. His aphoristic narrative is almost too esoteric or pedantic at times. Aphorisms work well in the regular Moth City series because they compliment Gibson's dialogue. Here, as the only narration, they weigh too heavily, feel smug and self-important at times, and distract from the emotional center of the story.
Still, it is great to see a creator willing to take the kind of risks that Gibson is taking. He is full of the pioneer spirit that his story examines, and he is pushing the boundaries of our very conception of what comics are. The Reservoir is an experiment for Gibson. Parts of it stumble, while others are immensely successful. It's this kind of bravado and the wisdom that follows it that ensures a bright future for the medium as a whole.