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Come for the Ride, Stay for the Murder Mystery

Robert J. Sodaro is an American born writer, editor, and digital graphic artist, who loves writing about comics, movies, and literature.

"Shotgun to Sugarland"

A book you most assuredly need to read.

A book you most assuredly need to read.

Meet Matthew and Shawn Fillbach

We first met the amazing writer/artist brothers, Matthew and Shawn Fillbach, at a New York Comic Con several years ago, and got to chat with them each a bit. Subsequently, we managed to meet up with them again at a show in Richmond VA a couple of years back and got to hang with them for the duration of the weekend event, which was actually quite fun, as they are fun, smart, and wickedly talented. Over the years, we have read, and enjoyed a number of their books. None more than their most recent graphic novel, Shotgun to Sugarland from First Comics.

The Brothers Fillbach

Matthew and Shawn Fillbach

Matthew and Shawn Fillbach

The Set-Up

In this amazingly complex and detailed story, Detective Alexandra Stride is hunting a fanatical woman who—fueled by manic religious fervor—is on a bloody trail of vengeance against those she believes have wronged her. Only the story is deeper than that, and the “fanatical woman” is, in actuality, a deeply troubled, and profoundly, psychologically damaged individual who is facing down her own hoard of terrible demons. The story the brothers tell, is not only layered and complex, but profoundly moving as well.

The “Fanatical Woman”

A page from "Shotgun to Sugarland." (Note the Easter Egg in Panel 4.)

A page from "Shotgun to Sugarland." (Note the Easter Egg in Panel 4.)

The Story Unfolds

The story is told in mostly black and white images—with a couple of full-color dream sequences thrown in for good measure—and with an amazing lack of dialogue and expository material. The story is a straight shot, unfolding as it goes. The book opens as we see the “fanatical woman” as she stalks her first victim in a strip club somewhere in some lonely town out in Nevada (probably, as it is never made clear, but as it turns out, that isn’t important to the story). She locates her victim, brings him to a hotel, and then exacts her revenge in a most chilling manner.

Ride a Cowboy

Detective Stride at home.

Detective Stride at home.

Meet Detective Stride

We then meet Detective Stride as she wakes up at home, heads into the office, and is subsequently called to the scene of the crime. Once there she is harassed by an older, misogynist detective who goes way out of his way to be as much of a jackass, chauvinist, douchebag as is humanly possible. Leaving the scene, she heads home where we meet her husband (who lovingly left her a sweet note in her opening scene), and learn that they have a horse that is about to foal (this will become important later). From this point forward, we go deeper into the lives of both women (to tell more would be to ruin the story). We will, however, say this; as the hunt draws to a close, one of these fragile/strong women may lose her sanity while the other one may lose her life. But, in the end, both will find their own personal savior.

Detective Stride on the Scene

Detective Stride is on the job.

Detective Stride is on the job.

A story Without Words

Needless to say, the Fillbach Brothers can better tell a story with few or even no words than most comic book writers can do with a thousand words. Their minimalist artistic style is stark, realistic, subtle, and compelling all at the same time. They know how to weave a tale by combining full-page illustrations, with sequential panels, some filled with words, and others that are wordless for a few pages. Still, nothing is lost, and the story is complete, not everything is explained, but again, the story is king, and we the reader are so thoroughly drawn into the story, that it is literally impossible to put the book down and the pages virtually turn themselves (at least that was our experience while reading it).

Not Everyone Likes Her

Detective Robb is a jackass.

Detective Robb is a jackass.

On the Subject of Violence

Be advised, there is an abundance of mind-numbingly horrific violence in this story, but—interestingly enough—that violence doesn’t come in the form of the brutally specific multiple murders that occur, nor even in the chilling stark events that led up to those blood-splattering executions, but rather in the underlying causes of the actual killings themselves. (Yes, you read that correctly, the slayings aren’t the horrific violence, but the end result of the actual violence (all of which occurred years prior to the beginning of this tale and all of which occurred off-panel). As an unavoidable aside, we remember watching a TV show, years ago about how Hollywood made pictures, and recall the commentator stating that in the ‘50s if a woman was going to be beaten, it would happen off-camera so as not to offend the audience, while in the ‘60s violence against women tended to happen on-screen so the audience would know that the woman wasn’t being raped. We mention that here because the “fanatical woman” (whose name is never revealed) was assaulted but we never see the assault, which naturally makes that much more violent.

"Shotgun to Sugarland" on Amazon

Things Can Get Worse

As you can understand, that proves to us that violence isn’t always the act, but often the intent to do harm, which is far, far more dreadful. Needless to say, the story isn’t all violent, as there are some soft, tender moments especially those shared between Detective Stride, her husband, and the mare they own who is about to foal. Unfortunately, the “fanatical woman” gets no such respite.

A Visit to the Coroner

Death abides.

Death abides.

B&W and Color

As stated, the book is (mostly) B&W with the two-color dream sequences; one each by the two female leads, both of which reveal deep-seated indications as to who each of these characters are within the context of the story. The insertion of the color pages serves in sharp contrast to the starkness of the B&W imagery. This new mind-bending experience is a fully realized, powerfully told tale of horror, revenge, and salvation from The Fillbach Brothers that tips in at 300 pages, and utilizes all of those pages to tell a poignant, emphatic tale that demands to be read.

Color vs. B&W

One of the two color "dream sequences."

One of the two color "dream sequences."

You Need to Buy This Book!

Still, having said all of the above, the brothers found the time to slip in a couple of “funnybook” Easter Eggs into the story (a Batman logo on a woman’s panties, and the Wonder Woman logo on Slim’s T-shirt) showing that Matthew and Shawn can be silly when they want to be. The hardcover book is beautifully packaged and would be a welcome addition to anyone’s funnybook library.

1Frist Comics

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© 2020 Robert J Sodaro