Premise: Chester Kates is a scrawny loner with no family in a town full of losers. When he is given the job of burning down the ghost town of Whale to make way for the railroad, he accepts it. The only problem is that there are still a few people living there.
A mysterious illness has taken over Whale, and only three people remain alive: the priest and his son, and Caroline. All Chester has to do to complete his mission is to get them to leave and set the buildings on fire. The real problem is convincing them to do so. The priest assumes he is infected with the strange plague and will not leave, and his son will not leave his father. Caroline will not leave the town until her father comes back from his claim in the mine, which gives Chester yet another challenge to complete his mission.
Chester grows fond of Caroline and has nothing to lose in finding her father or in confronting the supposedly infected priest. There are figures in white that haunt Whale, and the infected dead bodies around town are a chilling warning to keep out. As Chester tries to complete his task, he also begins to learn the cause of the plague and must make terrible decisions for how to bring about redemption for Whale.
Themes: The theme of redemption becomes clearer with every page, as Chester seeks to redeem Whale of its pestilence, as the residents seek redemption for themselves, and as Chester unwittingly encounters it through his decisions.
In this period of time where racism was prevalent, where other races are considered “animals” by some people in society, Bloody Chester tackles this topic subtly as a matter of fact thing in everyday life, which is then brought to the forefront for everyone to face.
There is also a bit of romance in Bloody Chester, though it plays more of a supporting storyline to keep Chester on task, while also providing some conflict in his quest to burn Whale to the ground. He must convince Caroline to leave, though now that he cares for her it makes the means for doing so more difficult.
Pros: The art is consistently beautiful and molds the characters well. The climax of the story is moving, leading to a resolution that, while crushing for all of Chester’s goals, was the right thing to do in spite of his goals. Redemption is brought to everything simultaneously, including Chester himself. As I read Bloody Chester I didn’t know what to think of it, but when I reached the end I was surprised at the impact it had in getting me to think.
Cons: Some of the artwork choices were odd, such as putting in words to explain an action, which reminds me of the campy original Batman series. I don’t know if it was intended, but if it was, then it doesn’t seem to fit with the intentions of the novel. I wish it was a bit longer with more back story behind some of the characters, especially Caroline. It is also somewhat foul and gruesome, not recommended for children.
Recommendations: For a story that is seemingly dark and soulless, Bloody Chester has an unexpected amount of heart. With curious artwork that sometimes doesn’t quite fit the tone of the story, it manages to lighten the mood of this dark tale into one of redemption for the lost souls. Bloody Chester is not recommended for children or young teens due to its language and sometimes gory images. There is some racism fitting for the time period that some may find offensive. In these days where political correctness reigns, I only fear that people will miss out on a good story by choosing not to read it for this single reason. Certain characters are offensive, not the story or the author. When it comes down to it, Bloody Chester is actually quite the opposite from racist. It is a story of honor and righting past wrongs.