When planning my “wants list” for the releases during Free Comic Book Day, I had checked off a little known web comic from Thrillbent that was being released in print by Top Shelf Productions for the first time. Described as “Mad Max meets Kill Bill”, The Motorcycle Samurai sounded like just the type of graphic story that would satisfy my twisted tastes. I was looking diligently for that special issue. But alas, whether it was due to my remote living location or my lateness in getting to the Free Comic Book Day festivities, I was unable to secure said copy. I was a little bit bummed out at the time. But time pushed forward. Needless to say, when I saw that Top Shelf was planning to release the title in a full volume format in July 2015. Well, let’s just say that my interest and my hope returned back to the level that it had been a couple of months ago.
Covering a prologue, five chapters, and having a whopping 176 pages, The Motorcycle Samurai Volume 1: A Fiery Demise was well worth the wait. In fact, I loved it. But I have to say that I absolutely reject the whole “Mad Max meets Kill Bill” description as it really does not cover anywhere near the complexity of or style that writer/artist Chris Sheridan brings to the title. But it has to be read to see that complexity.
Upon initial view, you see Sheridan’s rather clunky artistic renderings and wonder what in world this whole thing is about. It looks kind freaky on the cover. But as you read through the pages, you get a sprawling scrawled epic that reminds me something of a Sergio Leone spaghetti western if he had decided to do one of his westerns under a post-apocalyptic setting. But of course, this “man with no name” from the Leone classics is not a man at all. She’s a woman. And that woman does indeed have a name…The White Bolt.
As a huge fan of the Leone westerns as well as the more contemporary Sam Raimi hyper western The Quick and the Dead, I see the elements of both within the pages of The Motorcycle Samurai. Sheridan spends a great deal of time with facial close ups used to convey tension, action, and story, along with distance shots and even the use of music to bring a feel to the comic that you can taste, smell, and enjoy. We have a strongly diverse set of characters, sprawled out within a desolate desert territory known as The Badlands, flush with persons trying to find identity amongst themselves from a nation defeated along with everything else presumably in a war to end all wars. All that remains are gangs, brutal overseers, soldiers of fortune, and the masses of victims and would be victims caught in the middle of a chess game played in the dirt with no real power achieved by anyone that are only as strong as their current alliances. Well that, and maybe possession of a “Boom Stick”
The Motorcycle Samurai follows the White Bolt in her drive to the a town called Trouble, in tow with a bounty of a man named “Happy” who just happens to have his face under a burlap sack with a smiley face drawn on it. Happy has a history in Trouble and there are many people with a desire to receive him so as to deal the justice deserved. The only thing is, that justice has different meanings for different people. QUE THE ENNIO MORRICONE MUSIC…(From the Good the Bad and the Ugly)
For the widow Boss Parker, Happy is her brother and the man who killed her husband, the former Sheriff of Trouble. For Pierre Parker, known as the Iron King and second only to Boss Parker, Happy (also his brother) is a chance at respect. For the current Sheriff of Trouble, a big haired man known as the “All Star” Roy Keane, his view of Happy is to make a play in establishing true law and order in a town that may have never had it to begin with. And as for the White Bolt…Her justice involves something a little bit further down the road.
This volume is riveting from beginning to end, chock full with high impact explosive action, ever changing agendas/loyalties, and deep introspective contemplation of what this world is all about now that it is in its current run down and beaten state. Sheridan writes the tale with slow dialogues allowing the lines to ooze with the seriousness (or whimsy) that they are meant to represent. There is deep wisdom in Sheridan’s words. Not to mention that this story has some of the more positive and unbiased depictions of women within the comics universe that I have seen. Equality is routine and well-orchestrated with each line written.
Art wise, I don’t know if it is my love for Jeff Lemire’s work or not, but I like the slightly clunky, clanky, and crude renderings given by Sheridan. Each character has a uniqueness to them whether it be the White Bolt’s feathers on her skull mask, Beane’s Evel Knievel jumpsuit, The Iron King’s mask or Boss Parker’s ferocious facial features. Each rendering with corresponding close up and dialogue elicits a response that I found comforting and easy to follow. The art grows on you as you read to where it fits in well with all of the action involved with the story.
I can’t say that everyone will like this title as not everyone digs on Sergio Leone movies (poor souls). But in regard to this Comic Bastard, I place this Volume of The Motorcycle Samurai as one of the better trades that I have read this year. It is top notch work that deserves praise and hopefully will bring an interesting comic talent to the forefront in Chris Sheridan. We don’t even know why The Motorcycle Samurai is even called that at this point. But I do believe that as the White Bolt’s tale (and legend) plays out, there will be more answers to that mystery.