This book is f$%kin’ crazy!!!
Seriously, I was wandering around the best comic shop in Southern California last week, The Comic Bug, and asked co-owner Mike if there was anything new he would recommend. Well, Mike casually put Geof Darrow’s The Shaolin Cowboy No. 1 from Dark Horse in my hands and after glancing through it and falling IN LOVE with the art (something I almost never buy a book based on) I added it to my pile for check out. Several hours later, after I’d gotten home and clocked through my required reading list (and lately that IDW TMNT has risen almost to the top of that list – but that’s a story for another column) I picked up Shaolin and opened the front cover only to fall head-long into the most insane two-page story prelude f text I’ve ever encountered. I’m not even going to try and describe it here – you’re simply going to have to seek this one out for yourself, it’s that insane.
Right off the bat I’ll admit to being unfamiliar with the previous incarnation of The Shaolin Cowboy, which according to wikipedia ran from roughly 2004 through 2007 and was published by Burlyman Entertainment, a comic imprint that appears to be in some form of limbo, probably due to the fact that it was created by Andy and Lana Wachowski, who no doubt were immersed in the production of their most recent magnum opus Cloud Atlas for several years. That original Shaolin Cowboy series last published issue number seven in May, 2007. Since then the character has been absent from the stands, however now Dark Horse Comics has brought it back, this first issue the lead-in chapter to a four-part mini series, the second issue of which comes out this coming Tuesday, November 13th.
One of the things that I loved about The Shaolin Cowboy #1 from Dark Horse is the juxtaposition between the aforementioned two-pages of micro text prologue and the virtually silent nature of the book itself*. There is hardly any dialogue at all. The comic begins with the titular character digging himself out of the ground and quickly being over-run by zombies. And not just a couple hobbled, shambling corpses a la ‘they’re coming to get you Barbara’. No, we’re talking about RIVERS of decayed, dilapidated flesh-pods swarming over the cowboy, forcing him to battle for his life right from the start with what I can only describer as a bo staff specially modified with a chainsaw affixed to either end.
I mentioned how much I dig the art in this book and this particular weapon is probably my favorite thing Darrow draws in the entire issue. It’s so simple but his emphasis of the weight of the chainsaw on either end and how it makes the staff bow and bend as our hero leaps and attacks is just a pleasure to look at. Massive attention to minute detail is Darrow’s specialty though – look at some of this art! Even Mr. Darrow’s zombies – a pop culture convention that I’ve never had more room for in my life other than a handful of specific and altogether iconic instances – do not drag this book into the genre of the undead. Here’s the thing – the zombies here are merely a catalyst in this book. A culturally effective tool that basically gives our hero a near-limitless amount of cannon fodder to cut, hack and slice his way through. Sound mindless? Well, I wouldn’t call it that. The tone here harkens back to old school, 80’s indie comics a la First, Mirage and Dark Horse; a time when books like Eastman and Laird’s original TMNT, along with Boris the Bear, Yusagi Yojimbo and of course Lone Wolf and Cub presented non-traditional protagonists in increasingly strange and often surreal situations of action and violence. Intricate story is not needed at this point because there’s no impending feeling that all of this violence is going to give way to some massively complicated story, it’s just going to get our hero’s journey underway. A story like this is more a matter of events unfolding violently but gracefully across the course of twenty-something pages for the sheer sake of running the character through the ringer and seeing how he comes out the other side. This wouldn’t play the same if the book was chock full of dialogue, nor would it play the same if someone attempted to put one of the major player super heroes through this kind of thing. No, it’s my admittedly unfamiliar interpretation that this is very specific brand of sequence works well in the course of this book because of that indie tone and because, at heart thus far The Shaolin Cowboy has more in common with two similar cinematic movements – the western and the martial arts movie – than it does with conventional comic book storytelling protocol.
Maybe all of the above should be obvious based on the title of the book but hey, you never know right? In this day and age genres flex and combine all the time, so you never really know what’s behind a book’s name. With Shaolin Cowboy, I’d say you’re getting exactly what you paid for.
And it’s freakin’ great!!!
I’m unsure whether or not this book takes up where the Burlyman-released one left off, however because of that and because I enjoyed this first issue of the new Shaolin Cowboy so much that I feel confident that I can credibly assure you dear readers that whether or not you are already familiar with this character, you can definitely read this new book and enjoy the chainsaw-wielding, zombie-decapitating hell out of it!
*There’s a fantastic interview with Mr. Darrow on The Nerdist website where he discusses his penchant for silence in this series and his attention to detail in his art. Recommended reading for sure if you dig this book!
Can’t find a comic shop? You can always use old reliable Comic Shop Locator at 1-800-COMIC-BOOK. Or you can take some of my recommendations. If you live in the greater Chicagoland area I recommend any of the wonderful four locations of Amazing Fantasy Books. In Los Angeles it’s The Comic Bug. Las Vegas it’s Alternate Reality Comics. San Francisco? Try the Isotope Comic Lounge and if you happen to venture a little further North I’d say you have to visit The Escapist Comic Book Store in Berkley (with the wonderful Dark Carnival Books next door and owned by the same folks). Read on!!!
Shawn lives in Los Angeles where he co-hosts Drinking w/ Comics, writes screenplays and fiction and has been known to drink quite a bit of beer. Good beer.