There's a good chance you're not reading one of the strongest ongoing titles of recent memory. Although Oni Press' The Sixth Gun is already a solid series less than 20 issues in, it's the potential in the premise and characters that make the fantasy-western such an enjoyable read.

A mix of True Grit and Hellboy, especially reminiscent of the B.P.R.D. spin-off series Witchfinder: Lost and Gone Forever, but admittedly more novice, The Sixth Gun creators Brian Hurtt and Cullen Bunn don't break new ground as much they toss the best parts of their favorite genres into a Civil War era backdrop filled with demons, zombies, and outlaws to create something that's become a favorite of many comics professionals including Matt Fraction and Jason Aaron.

Unfortunately, according to the numbers, The Sixth Gun has a stable but rather small following of roughly 5,000 fans. In an effort to correct that, ComicsAlliance is here to bring you up to speed on this deserving work and preview no fewer than 16 pages from The Sixth Gun: Crossroads, the new volume on sale now.Artist Brian Hurtt (Queen & Country) and writer Cullen Bunn, who have a previous collaboration titled The Damned, used to work together at comic shop, no doubt giving the pair a wealth of material from which they could find inspiration. Bunn specifically calls out Jonah Hex and Joe R. Lansdale but also Walt Simonson and Jack Kirby as influences on The Sixth Gun.

The recently released second volume of The Sixth Gun collects issues seven through eleven, delightfully improving upon on the attention-grabbing first volume, Cold Dead Fingers (read chapter 1 for free right here on CA). There we met Drake Sinclair, a man of questionable character and dashing vests, in search of a secret fortune hidden by the bloodthirsty Confederate General Hume, who won't stay dead. In looking for the treasure, Sinclair stumbles into the path of Becky Montcrief, whose step-father dies protecting a mysterious gun, one of six that each have specific powers. A few gun battles later and Becky and Drake are teamed up and fighting General Hume above a former prison pit while the undead and mud-ghosts battle around the opening to a dark seal.

All of that is fine, but it took almost 100 pages to get a firm grasp on the overall plot of The Sixth Gun. As such, I can't blame any readers who may have picked up the first couple issues and never returned. There are times when the dialogue can seen a bit off as well, not so much out-of-character as devoid of a strong voice. Slowly, however, the characters began to warm and eventually solidify by the conclusion of what's collected in Cold Dead Fingers.

The second volume, Crossroads, opens with that battle wrapped-up, but with a few loose ends readers understand will return for the worse. Volume 1 might have tried to end too perfectly -- after all, longevity is promised to only a handful of titles in this industry -- but now that The Sixth Gun has proven itself, the characters, plot, and art seem to have settled into a more comfortable groove than before. For example, a former prisoner from the first book, Gord, joins as a main character, which also reinforces the improvements over the first volume.

The most dramatic change in Crossroads is the impact of the overall images. Hurtt's line-work feels more confident, the backgrounds more detailed, and panels larger. In step with these changes, the colors are much stronger as well. The first book's coloring, the majority of which was by Hurtt himself (who was teaching himself the process as he went), felt too flat at times. That problem is non-existent in Crossroads, which is colored by the very talented Bill Crabtree.

Top the visual upgrades off with Bunn becoming more familiar with his characters' voices, bordering the wordplay of Firefly. The Sixth Gun is clearly becoming a comic book that is poised to hit an excellent stride before the year's end. Bunn himself notes that the second book is more grounded, giving readers a better opportunity to connect with the characters, yet he also admits he wants that process to take time.

The real heart of The Sixth Gun is its ability to create a word of death and horror without being overtly serious in tone. While there aren't any laugh-out-loud moments, there are sly bits of humor dryly sprinkled in the art and words; a technique that too often goes unused, even though the comic medium is fertile ground for such storytelling gems.

As the series advances this year, Bunn says situations will change, as will characters, but that everything is ultimately converging for the finale around issue #50. Almost half way to the end, the preverbal Sixth Gun train hasn't left the station just yet. You'd do well to climb aboard what will be more than year-long, well crafted comic book adventure.

The Sixth Gun: Cold Dead Fingers and The Sixth Gun: Crossroads are on sale now in finer comic book shops, bookstores and available online from Things From Another World.

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