I went a little nuts this year with the limited editions from Black Library. I was so enchanted with Josh Reynolds’ Apocalypse, I naturally picked up the LE for Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty when it came out, despite being neither a Necromunda nor a Kal Jerico fan. But the pages were purple and by golly, I needed that in my life.
I am of course passingly familiar with Kal and the world of Necromunda. It had never really appealed to me because it lacked space marines, and felt very dated. Not only does Josh Reynolds nail the whole style and feel of Necromunda, he manages to modernize it while remaining faithful to its roots.
The Wild Hive West
For those unfamiliar, Necromunda is a hive planet that has ancient roots. Like, Dark Age of Technology ancient. It is by all accounts and descriptions a wretched hive of scum and villainy. The underhive is in constant turmoil as great houses and rival gangs duke it out for resources, territory, and people. All of this wrapped up in a Betsey Johnson bow that is starched with Aquanet. When you crack open the book, Crockett’s Theme plays in the background. That is to say, it is so deeply and delightfully ingrained in ’80s awesome and insanity.
I hesitate to label this story a “space western” because of the baggage associated by way of Firefly*. But in many ways, this book does play out like something in the vein of the Man Without a Name Trilogy IN SPACE. And while Josh Reynolds shakes off some of the trappings of the late-90s-early-00s that plagued some of the earlier stories, he doesn’t lose the essence of an over-the-top action movie.
The Magnificent Dozen or So
The overarching plot is straightforward: a man named Desolation Zoon has stolen something of great value, and multiple parties are on his trail for a bounty. As such, Kal Jerico is strongly character-driven. It’s not just Kal, his kind-of-sort-of wife Yolanda, and his scruffy pal Scabbs who carry the book on their shoulders either. Josh Reynolds manages to blend several existing characters of Necromunda along with several of his creation, each more fun than the last. It’s not an exaggeration to say that as each new character was introduced, I found myself saying “Oh, I like the hell out of this person already.”
Most of the characters embody well-known and loved tropes that make them comfortable and familiar from the get-go. Even if you are unfamiliar with the life and times of Gor Half Horn, you know him by way of typing. I don’t say that as a bad thing, either. Even minor characters like Big Sledge and Horst jump off the page and grab you. By the end of the story, I found myself emotionally invested in and attached to all of the hunters on Zoon’s trail. With Kal Jerico and Apocalypse, Josh Reynolds is proving himself to be adept at creating disreputable scoundrels that are endearing.
That’s not to say all of the characters are lovable. I realize it’s contradictory to praise the characters for playing to type and then also condemn them. The low points come from both of the female leads. Yolanda generally feels like every ’90s angry girl stereotype come to life; I envisioned her looking like Lori Petty’s Tank Girl. As someone who loved Tank Girl in the ’90s, I had some mixed emotions about this. This also extends to Belladonna, whose femme fatale balanced somewhere between Body Heat-era Kathleen Turner and Sin City’s Rosario Dawson. Again, I’m not sure if that compliment is entirely open-handed.
Impossible Sieges, Impossible Odds
When all of the characters inevitably meet is where the book shines. I am a sucker for a good siege against impossible odds, and I love the entire idea of these disparate groups colliding over a common goal. It’s a motif that I enjoy every time it happens. Hell, I defend Smokin’ Aces because it plays the trope so well**. In fact, in many ways, Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty plays out like Smokin’ Zoon. It’s a motley crew of the best/worst the underhive has to offer, all in one place. Delightful!
By the time everyone’s allegiances are laid bare in the last 70-or-so pages, the book is a non-stop action set-piece. Reynolds manages to bounce effortlessly through each of the major players’ stories and views in a way that made the book almost impossible to put down. When the last explosion tolls and the final bullet is fired, the end wraps in a satisfyingly WH40k kind of way. Also, I will give major props to Josh Reynolds for effectively pulling off the MacGuffin in the final pages, which is no easy feat.
With Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty, Josh Reynolds effectively sets the stage for a future series arc, and I’m 100% on board for it. The book establishes major players, major concepts, and future alliances. Most importantly it’s fun. In a lot of ways the book plays out like a WH40k version of Guardians of the Galaxy. Only a helluva lot more violent, and more 40k.
* Come at me.
** Yes the movie completely falls apart in the end, but that first 2/3 is fun AF.