As long time readers of my various writings and podcasts and internet whatnot are probably well aware of, one of the things I was most looking forward to this year in the land of comics was the return of Geof Darrow’s Shaolin Cowboy.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a full appearance by the character. 2007 was the cover date of the last issue. Shaolin Cowboy originally started as part of Burlyman Entertainment (from the Wachowski’s comic line) and it’s kind of a hard comic to describe. It’s about a former Shaolin monk who was asked to leave the temple and then had a pretty good sized bounty. The Shaolin Cowboy is pretty much a master of any form of combat, traveling with a talking mule in a setting that is described in the comic as “the day after yesterday and a week before tomorrow”. If I had to sum it up, it’s awesome art with a surreal story. Geof Darrow is a master artist. His art is both simple and incredibly detailed. The stories that went along with Shaolin Cowboy had him fighting shark people, zombies, thugs, you name it. He also has a talking mule. It’s really an interesting piece, very similar to how I find a lot of French comics like Metabarons or The Incal. I’m not always sure what’s going on but damn is it interesting and well drawn.
How can you not love art like this?
But then Burlyman went silent.
No one has every really explained why but Burlyman appeared to shut it’s doors around the same time the last issues of Doc Frankenstein and Shaolin Cowboy came out. The website is still up and running and in theory they still have a store you can order comics from but it hasn’t changed since 2007. So I’d be real leery of trying to buy anything from it. From the outside, it looks like the lights are on at Burleyman but no one is home. Which in turn left my favorite kung fu ass-kicker out in the cold. The series has never been collected in North America (although France and Italy are lucky bastards and have nice hardcovers) and as far as anyone knew, that was the end of that.
And then there were rumblings.
I first came across Andrew Vachss mentioning a prose Shaolin Cowboy story when he did this awesome online book tour for the last Burke novel. He doesn’t go into great detail about it but it piqued my curiosity. So when I got talk to Vachss a little while later, I asked him about it;
Brent: So the novel?
AV: It’s written.
Brent: It’s written?
AV: Oh yeah.
Now that was in October of 2010. I later got a chance to talk to Darrow in April 2011, who not only confirmed that the book was on it’s way but that Shaolin Cowboy‘s new home would be Dark Horse Comics and not only would it be a prose story but also published in a pulp magazine format. Being a fan of the pulps like The Purple Scar, The Shadow and so on, I thought the idea was an awesome one. While pulps have survived over the years, it was a little different for the comic book market at present.
But in my humble opinion, The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine not only got it right but was also pretty kick ass to boot.
This book just feels like a pulp. The size is kind of in between traditional pulp magazine format and the later pulp format of digests. It sports a great painted cover by Scott Gustafson that just screams out pulp magazine. Inside, we get a pulp novel version of Shaolin Cowboy along with a a story from writer Michael A. Black called Time Factor. There’s also more but I’ll get into that in a bit.
First off, this is not a book for everyone.
If you like the previous Shaolin Cowboy comics, you will like this book. If you don’t, this will not change your mind.
Geof Darrow’s illustrations are as amazing as ever and while I love the color work that he’s done over the years, there’s something really refreshing about seeing his work in black and white. That being said, the real surprise is the written work done by Andrew Vachss.
One of the things Darrow has mentioned about this project coming together is that Vachss wanted to write a project for fun. 99% of his work is really aimed at furthering his cause to help abused children. It’s why most of his novels are aimed at shedding light to various issues around child abuse and exploitation. It’s why on his website, Vachss refers to his novels as Trojan horses as opposed to just books. And while we do get a little hint of that in The Way of “No Way”, really this is the first time that I can recall Vachss just cutting loose. His novels have always seemed so tight and the characters so controlled, that I would have never seen this book coming. Vachss has stepped on the gas and is willing to see where it goes. And the best part is that not only has Vachss let go a little on this story, he completely gets Shaolin Cowboy. Both Cowboy and the mule are completely the same characters we’ve grown to enjoy. Nothing seems out of place by any stretch just instead of panels, we get words.
It’s a great story that fits in with everything we’ve seen about the Shaolin Cowboy before.
The second part of the Adventure magazine features a story from novelist Michael A. Black with illustration by Gary Gianni (best known for his work on Prince Valiant as well as illustrations for a few Robert E. Howard characters) where we see soldiers travel back in time and end up duking it out with dinosaurs. It’s an interesting short story that I wouldn’t mind reading an expanded version of.
Now we come to the “more” part.
Also included in this volume are helpful tips from the Shaolin Cowboy involving your vacuum, weed-whacker and other appliances. We also get an adorable little cartoon from Darrow’s daughter, Alice and black and white previews of the upcoming Shaolin Cowboy comic scheduled for sometime next year. I’ve read about some people complaining about the price ($17.99 CAN) but I honestly don’t see the problem. At over 114 pages, I really felt this was worth the money but maybe I’m biased.
Like I said, this is not a book for everyone. But if you think you might like it, grab it now. I’m still trying to grab up the other issues of Shaolin Cowboy I’m missing and in the upcoming year, we might be getting more of the ass-kicker. Wednesday’s Finest has created an awesome 14 inch figure (which you can see at the left there) that’s now up for pre-order. Having had a brief email conversation with Adam at Wednesday’s Finest, I can tell you they hope there will be a lot more to come (I’m probably going to talk a lot more about this at Christmas). Geof has apparently shown the “what there is of it” footage from the aborted Shaolin Cowboy anime. He doesn’t have much hope for it ever being finished but who knows? Maybe all this new stuff will perk some ears and wallets.
I’m also hoping that this does well enough that we’ll get to see this thing once a year. I think the format is perfect for an annual book and if Andrew Vachss happens to be busy, there are a ton of other writers (myself included) that I’m sure would love to give this a shot.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!