Overview

Shaolin Cowboy #1

Review

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Shaolin Cowboy #1

Credits

  • Words: Geofrey Darrow
  • Art: Geofrey Darrow
  • Inks: Geofrey Darrow
  • Colors: Peter Doherty
  • Story Title: Shaolin Cowboy
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Dec 22, 2004

Geof Darrow’s twisted genius assaults senses and sensibilities once more with perhaps the most curious and certainly the most violent comic of 2004.

The second offering from Burlyman Entertainment, the comics publishing arm of the Brothers Wachowski’s media juggernaut, Shaolin Cowboy marks the return of Darrow’s signature style and vision to graphic storytelling. Mood and setting are established from the jump as we follow a lizard across three pages and a desolate landscape, urban graffiti scrawled on rocks the only hint of the time period. The surroundings become the last resting place of John, Juan and Jon, the latest to die by the hand of the Shaolin Cowboy. Nameless, neither shaolin nor cowboy, he hardly speaks, yet says much more with his revolver and his sword. The burro he rides is a chatterbox, though, and the animal’s ceaseless prattle lulls the Cowboy’s guard down to the point where neither realizes they’ve stepped into a trap. They’re totally surrounded; every thug, desperado, hoodlum and ne’er-do-well who ever had beef waiting in line for a piece of the Cowboy.

Can he and his four-legged companion make it out alive? How he makes it out alive is a much more apt question, and is answered over the course of twenty pages displaying some of the most breathtaking and brutal violence I’ve ever seen put on paper. In his red Chuck Taylors, the Cowboy unleashes like Yoda in Attack of the Clones—unthreatening, even cuddly at first, and then going from zero to sixty in the blink of an eye. The over-the-top spectacle is as compelling as it is unnerving. That’s basically the hook Darrow’s script employs in this first issue, and by the end the number of questions in the reader’s mind is only exceeded by the number of dead and dismembered on the ground. Just what sort of world is this? What’s the back-story? What’s the front-story for that matter? What did the Cowboy do to get all these people after him? What’s the deal with all the talking critters?

Darrow’s script gives us none of this. His approach is in media res to the extreme, and the ride is wild if the reader can take it. Narrative-wise, the move is a gamble flouting the conventional wisdom on how first issues featuring new characters should be done. Rejecting a traditional set-up strategy will probably dissuade some readers from checking out issue #2. However, others will be intrigued by the lack of information, as well as by the air of mystery around the Shaolin character himself. Somehow I don’t see Shaolin Cowboy as a series of issue-long scenes, so my hunch is readers who stick around will be rewarded with a series that gets deeper as Darrow delivers more stories.

The production values are fantastic. Pages of thick, high-quality paper are vivified by bright, juicy colors. Even if it’s not bought, any fan of the medium should at least check the issue out just to marvel at what happens when a love for making comics like the Wachowskis’ comes together with all that Matrix money. (Doc Frankenstein, as well as being a very good read with a chilling cliffhanger, is also excellently put together. Burlyman is two-for-two in my book.)

Technically, Darrow’s artwork is above top-notch. On the small scale, there’s the attention to detail that’s unmatched in terms of precision and clarity, and line work that’s bold and determined as if the images are exactly what was in Darrow’s head at the time. (Page 4, panel 7, for example. Wow.) On the large scale, some panels can barely contain the action once the blood starts flowing, while others sprawl majestically across pages, this first issue a thirty-two page clinic on the meaning of "panoramic." (Page 26 eerily reminds me of the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch.)

Finally, looking a little closer, it seems to me that Darrow is going in some direction other than the purely cinematic style that’s all the rage now. While there are shots and angles that pay homage to the great samurai movies from the 50’s, there are also pages and panels that are more like billboards than screens. They tell the story in a different way that’s slightly off kilter, but effective.

A little of the old ultra violence at its exhilarating, vainglorious best, Shaolin Cowboy is highly recommended for those sufficiently un-squeamish enough to stick around for what happens next.

-Dexter K. Flowers

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