I know writer Brian Azzarello from 100 Bullets and Johnny Double with Eduardo Risso, as well as having written an arc of Hellblazer, Batman, and a Sgt. Rock graphic novel illustrated with Joe Kubert. Out of all of them, only the Batman arc, illustrated by Risso, didn't interest me outright. In fact, I'd probably have to say that Batman: Broken City was pretty forgettable on just about every level. Likewise, I'd been familiar with Marcelo Frusin's artwork on Hellblazer, and I really liked his thick, broad lined work there. So when the two of them came together for their own series, Loveless, a western set in the aftermath of the Civil War, I figured this could only be good.
But Loveless: A Kin of Homecoming, the first collection of the Loveless series, is more confusing than it is enjoyable, and so the slim collection is ultimately unsatisfying.
The premise is simple: after being held in prison at the end of the American Civil War, Wes Cutter, who fought for the South, returns home to find his wife and reclaim his land that the Union have taken. The problem, of course, is that immediately this premise has a bump in it, because trailing Wes is a shadowy stranger who turns out to be the wife he is searching for, Ruth. Only, she's quite found, and is possibly responsible for freeing him from jail. This isn't much of a spoiler, by the way, though the second is just an opinion; but the first is revealed fairly earlier in the collection. The result of this early reveal, however, is that it makes the whole story that Wes gives about looking his wife, often after scenes of both him and his wife in their cabin, a little odd and mystifying, since nothing is made out of it. It might have been slightly more interesting if Azzarello played up this aspect of the story more, and had Ruth dodging in and out of buildings to hide for people--as it is, she is dressed like a 'man', which, given Frusin's curved and beautiful depictions of women, doesn't result in a very convincing deception. Indeed, the first character to meet Ruth without Wes around isn't convinced, either. Given that when Ruth was in town last she was brutally raped by Union soldiers, and the townsfolk did nothing to stop it, I tend to think that there are more interesting ways for Azzarello and Frusin to use Ruth.
I guess the problem is that Ruth's position in the story makes it convoluted. If Ruth had been introduced later, if perhaps both she and Wes had returned openly and the town had reacted to Ruth's new, angry, vengeful presence, then it would have been sleeker. As it is, if feels as if A Kin of Homecoming is very much Ruth's story, and Azzarello and Frusin have picked the wrong point of view character in Wes to narrate it through. Towards the end of the collection, however, the narration begins to fall evenly to the two, while also introducing a third, the freed slave Atticus, who had fought with the Union.
That said, it isn't a bad collection, and there are aspects that work well. Of particular success is the way that Frusin overlaps memories and current events in his art so that you can watch Wes or Ruth or Atticus move through an event, but see the ghostly presence of their older selves, their selves before the war, and see, in the case of Wes and Ruth just how much has been lost in the two (though it should be said that their almost perfect romance is a bit unbelievable). It works nicely, and avoids any confusion, except for one point when Atticus is chased down by a member of the KKK, and it is mixed with his escape from slavers. But like I said, it works for the most part well, and likewise, Azzarello's script does a nice job of introducing Wes' brother, Jonny, to the reader, and positioning him as the antagonist that, when he enters town, will begin the true burning of Blackwater.
Still, as things go, Loveless lacks the emotional weight of Azzarello's 100 Bullets, and while he and Frusin have come together nicely on the book, it doesn't yet seem to be working on all levels. Worth a try if you're curious, however.