Looking at the cover of Undone by Blood #1, it’s easy to forget the “or” part: Undone by Blood, or The Shadow of a Wanted Man. “Or” means this series goes by either title. A semicolon would’ve made The Shadow of a Wanted Man the subtitle, but “or” puts them on equal footing.
It’s this “or” that tells you everything you need to know about Ethel Grady Lane. The Shadow of a Wanted Man is the name of the book that she’s reading, but it’s also her north star. Ethel’s life is so influenced by its pages that you can’t tell her story without it and, in fact, it’s how we’re introduced to her story in Undone by Blood #1.
Rather than start the issue with Ethel, writers, Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, begin with a few pages from chapter three of the book, about a cowboy named Sol who’s trying to round up his cattle. “Three” is significant for a couple of reasons. For one thing, it’s our first clue that Shadow is a book within a book. If Sol were the protagonist, you’d expect the first issue to start with chapter one.
Sol, however, is the cowboy Ethel aspires to be, and just as Undone by Blood doesn’t start at the beginning of his story, it doesn’t start at the beginning of hers, either. Someone murdered Ethel’s family and it’s because of what happened to them that she’s seeking revenge now.
The Shadow of a Wanted Man is a work of prose. That means the images we’re seeing during these sections come from Ethel’s imagination. The way letterer, Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, conveys this is by lettering the dialogue so it looks like text from a book typed on parchment – very rigid, with all of the lines indented to the left and not spaced correctly for a speech bubble.
Colorist, Jason Wordie, contributes to this impression by using colors that look like they’ve been dreamt on the page – paler, and soaked up by the paper. When we finally meet Ethel it’s a different story. The colors are bracing, almost picture postcard-esque, moving the desert out of the westerns Ethel loves and into the present (in this case 1971).
Throughout the first issue we see Ethel trying to force her life to play out like a western and having it come up short. For a while artist, Sami Kivelä, avoids showing us Ethel’s face, for example, literally dropping other panels on top of it, so we can’t see her. Instead it becomes about this role Ethel wants to play, but it’s a performance that values the superficial. You recognize what’s she going for (and Kivelä uses these iconic, cowboy visuals, as mirrors) but on the one hand you have Sol dismounting from his horse to enter a saloon. On the other you have Ethel on her bike, being carded.
Reality and fiction are at an impasse in this series, and it’s this conflict that the double title highlights. Taking inspiration from someone can be healthy, but is Sol truly worthy of Ethel’s admiration? There’s a psychological conflict being told here that’s absolutely enthralling. Any fans of the western genre should consider Undone by Blood #1 when it comes out this Wednesday, February 12th, from AfterShock.