Monday, May 14, 2007

Shaolin Cowboy #1

Shaolin Cowboy #1, December 2004, Burlyman Entertainment
by Geofrey Darrow with Peter Doherty

Comic books are a lot like the mafia. Even when you think you're out, they pull you back in. Take my nine part Free Comic Book Day series. After last night's review, I was perfectly content, in fact looking forward to, returning to the pile of comics I've purchased over the last few months, including an issue of Chicanos I originally intended for Cinco de Mayo, before I marked FCBD on my calendar. Further, I was relieved at the thought of just reading one comic, because, frankly, much of my last week was taxed by the effort of reading more than one issue every twenty-four hours, especially since some of those issues were understandably packed with promotional material. Yes, give me one comic, one quick review, and a solid night's sleep . . .
Until a fat stack of more free comics fell right into my lap. No, these issues are more FCBD fare; rather, as I work for a youth--oriented nonprofit organization, they were donated, and since their content is inappropriate for an all ages audience, they were bestowed to the resident geek, namely, me. Actually, I would've felt insulted if they weren't ushered my way immediately, but the timing of free comics, on the heels of Free Comic Book Day, is certainly ironic. Further, I had some time to read more than one this afternoon, which was even more self-deprecatingly frustrating, considering the cram sessions I endured last week. Still, it's rare to come upon a stack of comics in which I don't already have at least one issue, so to come upon some of these titles is fortuitous, despite the timing.

So, I read Burlyman Entertainment's Shaolin Cowboy #1 and DC's Richard Dragon #5, both titles I missed by a few weeks and thus never purchased, though now I think I'll reconsider, at least for the former. (I like Dixon and McDaniel a great deal, but with Lady Shiva starring in Dragon, I think Dixon is beating a dead horse. I'm surprised he didn't resurrect the King Snake . . . again.) Interesting, and coincidentally, both issues feature martial arts experts pitted against overwhelming odds "and," as Maxwell Smart would say, "loving it!" However, the difference between the mainstream DC and the independent Burlyman is apparent in their delivery: Richard Dragon is all pressure points, while the Shaolin Cowboy is all sharp blades through flesh. In perhaps the goriest sequence I've ever seen, the Cowboy rips through dozens of opponents effortlessly, blood and organs flying in a proverbial firework pattern of combat excellence, beautifully drawn and colored, of course. Unlike Dixon's carefully established plot, Darrow does little to establish the Cowboy's motivation, other than the simple desire to pass. It is an intensely action-oriented issue, clearly intended to put forth the hero's skills, and set us up for future developments, if they're even necessary.

Burlyman Entertainment is the graphic brainchild of the Wachowski brothers and is also responsible for Doc Frankenstein, which I did catch from the beginning and enjoyed a great deal. In the same way, I'll be hunting for Shaolin Cowboy back issues, because this issue was strangely compelling bloody fun. I like it when the good guy is the best at what he does. That's what makes that bullet bouncing off of Superman's eye so awesome in Superman Returns -- you get a sense of why the hero is the hero. If the Cowboy got his butt kicked by this seemingly vengeful mob, why would I pick up the next issue? No, now I want to see what can actually halt this martial arts master, and how he gets out of that bind.

And I wonder how I'll get out of this one. See, now I feel compelled to compare one issue with another, even if it isn't called for. The onslaught of material during Free Comic Book Week, er, I mean Day ruined me. Perhaps that's why I liked Shaolin Cowboy so much. He conquered his overwhelming odds . . .!

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