By Levi Remington
Life is full of defining moments, events that completely reshape your perspective on reality. I've had my fair share, but sometimes they come without warning. You see, there's my life before I read The Shaolin Cowboy: Who'll Stop the Reign #1, and then there's my life after. Because a man can only do so much to resist cataclysmic disruption of his entire being, and a title as outlandish as this was always meant to be the definitive tipping point. Read ahead for my thoughts before Billy's Happy Meal photo hits 9 likes.
I had never before been exposed to The Shaolin Cowboy series, written and illustrated by Geof Darrow, so perhaps it was the way it caught me off guard. From the very first page it had me laughing out loud, a rare feat for the isolated experience of comic book reading. The ensuing story would be even more unexpected. But even through its mystifying plot threads, the absurdity, writhing satire, and playfulness of it all makes for a compelling and undeniably entertaining read. This book takes full advantage of the comic book form, plunging headfirst into a sea of weirdness that could only be possible on the page.
So when exactly did I discover that Geof Darrow would be the architect of such hilarity? It wasn't until The Shaolin Cowboy himself performed a death grip of unfathomable tightness around the neck of a hungry vulture, increasing the pressure in its skull to such an extent that its eyes would burst from the sockets, accelerating at velocities so intense that when they finally reach their point of impact – two bystander vultures – the results are piercing and fatal. Right then I knew what kind of book I was in for. Anything was possible here: no vulture's eye would be left in its socket, no dog would miss the opportunity to have knives for legs, and no heinous act of humanity would remain veiled.
Darrow's art is a work of bizarre beauty. Full of eclectic detail, rich backgrounds, and trashy citizens, it will make you laugh as much as it will make you think – mostly thoughts like "why is that dog smoking a cigarette" and "is that a dragon?" But you get my point. Every person and animal has a different, carefully detailed design, rewarding readers who linger along to discover everything the art has to offer. Motion is conveyed very well too, injecting excitement into the action and illustrating body language with a weight and presence that you'd expect from real people.
The Shaolin Cowboy is completely off the wall. Like an unhinged stream of consciousness, but less of a stream, more of an unrelenting downpour. Like a scathing commentary on modern America and technology, but with more chi paths, talking crabs, and house pets with a cigarette problem. The book follows no traditional narrative structure. It meanders and it confuses. It's a mess, really. But it's a lovably offensive, beautifully illustrated, remarkably hilarious mess. A magnificent, whimsical disaster.
The Shaolin Cowboy: Who'll Stop the Reign #1
Written & Illustrated by Geof Darrow
Colors by Dave Stewart
Letters by Nate Piekos
Published by Dark Horse Comics