Trace Adkins, Country artist. Maybe you heard the name. If not, maybe you have seen him compete on The Celebrity Apprentice, in The Lincoln Lawyer with Matthew McConaughey, or his most recent appearance in the direct-to-DVD feature, Wyatt Earp's Revenge. He is currently performing his Songs And Stories tour. Over the last fifteen years since he made his platinum debut, he had released ten studio albums, three greatest hits albums, charted thirty songs - including Honkytonk Badonkadonk and Ladies Love Country Boys - earned four Grammy nominations anf five ACM and CMT awards. He has sold ten million albums.
A Country taste or familiarity is not a pre-requisite, though, to enjoying his 2009, 12-Gauge Comics debut in the first of a four-issue mini-series, Trace Adkins is Luke McBain. The story is pretty similar to Billy Jack and Walking Tall.
This first issue, East of Eden opens with Luke walking back to his backwoods hometown, Eden, Louisiana, after fourteen years away. He stops at a gas station at the edge of town, run by a childhood friend, for a soft drink. His friend warns him of trouble ahead in Eden. He runs into an old high school flame, Callie Flack, inside Drucker's drugstore. Along with three punks trying to rob the place. He tells Callie to stay put, out of danger, grabs an axe handle and steps up to the plate. he overpowers two of the three. The third he takes down with a single punch as if the thug were Guy Gardner. Callie disappears, but one of the drugstore employees, a brunette invites Luke to a proper thank-you later.
Eden is a mill town. Luke's brother, Paul, owns the local mill and uses his wealth and the mill to run the town. Luke pays a short visit to reaquaint himself with Paul, and takes a set of truck keys from Paul's bodyguard, telling his brother that the last truck he drove got wrecked.
That night after dinner at Callie's, Luke meets her teenage son, Erik, who's come home drunk. Luke tells Erik to show his mother some respect, and Callie tells Luke to mind his own business. She gives Luke his old guitar case before he leaves. Luke heads back to his room above his friend's garage outside of town, followed by one of Paul's men. There he is visited by the sheriff. The sheriff warns Luke not ot cause any toruble that could get his parole revoked. The sheriff is only too eager to send Luke back to prison, where he's been the last fourteen years. After the sheriff leaves, Luke starts a reel-to-reel, sets his guitar against his bed and opens up the case to check over his weapons.
Trace Adkins is Luke McBain is a COOL story. Full of action and drama. Simple. Basic. Graphic in the action and language. Trace Adkins is currently wrapping up shows on his Songs And Stories tour with the song Sometimes You Gotta Whoop A Man's Ass. That certainly is the case here. Kody Chamberlain's art under a Brian Stelfreeze cover, though graphic is engaging and compelling. The opening splash page could be from Mayberry and the opening of The Andy Griffith Show. But then, there is the next panel, an inset that shows Luke's flinty eyes. He looks almost like Eastwood. except with longer hair.
Ed Dukeshire's lettering is noteworthy. He carries David Tischman's script and dialogue smoothly. There is no Biff! Pow! or Sok! here. The design of this book by Infusion Studios is impressive. There is no inker or colorist on this book Chamberlain handles all the artwork and gives the book a noir look with a heavy shadowed, amber tint. The full page view of Luke decking one of the drugstore thugs is very similar to the shot, by penciller Ethan Van Sciver, of Hal Jordan decking The Batman in Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth. Only with a little more blood showing.
The only drawback to this book is that this same story was done five years earlier, in 2004, with a few details changed, by Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. It was called Walking Tall.
It is STILL a cool story. Armageddon is the same basic story as Deep Impact. Both are about meteors on a direct path toward Earth. Two completely different movies. The same is true of the Kevin Costner film Wyatt Earp. Not so different from Tombstone starring Kurt Russell. John Wayne managed to make the same story into three different films over his career: Rio Bravo in 1959; El Dorado in 1966 and Rio Lobo in 1970. An argument can be made that an action star tells basically the same story in every film. What makes or breaks the story is the details. The details provided here by David Tischman are solid. The question is raised about what business Luke has in Eden. The answer seems to be to settle a score with his brother and right a wrong between them. Luke is back home to reclaim his life, another theme from a John Wayne movie. Tischman's story is in the style of Beau Smith and Chuck Dixon. If this is a comic book vehicle for Trace Adkins as an action hero, both he and Tischman are in good company.