When publisher IDW announced their hardcover collection of Doug Wildey’s Rio, I immediately recalled a favorite television show from the late 1980s, Paradise (later renamed Guns of Paradise). The western drama starred Lee Horsley, and here he was on the cover of a comic book! Well, maybe not quite. Artist and writer Doug Wildey began chronicling the adventures of his outlaw-turned-presidential-pardoned-special-agent Rio in 1983 and worked on the character until his death in 1994, so perhaps the producers of Paradise were influenced by Rio or perhaps grizzled, bearded men in the Wild West look similar under a cowboy hat.
What IDW has done, however, is produce something unique. Several of the Rio tales contained herein have been in and out of print across multiple publishers for years, but two stories, “Red Dust in Tombstone” and “Reprisal” see publication for the first time. But here’s where things get very special: “With the exception of 10 story pages, all the images in this volume were scanned directly from Wildey’s original artwork.” In addition to 272 pages of incredibly rendered fisticuffs, ambushes, and gun fights, the reader is treated to a glimpse at the true process of creating a comic book, along with Wildey’s smudges, hand-corrected letters, and yellowed corners. Rio’s adventures feel authentic because now they are; this is as close to experiencing Wildey’s method as I can imagine.
Rio is a man trailed by friends and enemies. His relationships tumble across his boots and through his sights. Wildey doesn’t spend time explaining backstories or narrating motives; the blood spills as it may, and the storytelling on display is never formulaic. Panels are lively, riddled with bullet lines, rain streaks, and occasionally shaped like a torn photograph when the narrative calls for it. Rio escapes by foot, horse, and boat, surrounded by rich vistas and handsome characters. As Mark Evanier notes in his introduction, even Wildey’s illustrative methods were unique. A self-taught artist, Wildey freely mixed media, including oil, acrylics, Magic Marker, and more, giving his pages a sense of surface and terrain.
Longtime fans will want to quickly flip to the two new stories—“Red Dust in Tombstone” is one of the strongest stories in this collection and “Reprisal,” in its unfinished state, is a rare look at an artist at work. The result is a book that will appeal to comic fans, western readers, and art aficionados—in short, just about everyone who appreciates great stories beautifully told.