Captain Comics said:
SHAOLIN COWBOY: CRUEL TO BE KIN #1 (OF 7) Story/Art: Geof Darrow | Covers: Geof Darrow, Mike Mignola, Alice Darrow | Dark Horse | $4.99
I haven’t read the previous Shaolin Cowboy miniseries, but this issue was self-contained enough that I didn’t feel like I was lost.
The story is narrated by a couple of lizards — yes, they talk, and people can understand them — as one of them tells the other about how he met the Shaolin Cowboy, and how the Cowboy saved his life. It is a long tale, with more to come, involving multiple encounters between Cowboy and various threats.
The Cowboy doesn’t say much, but is well armed and great at martial arts, as well as more esoteric combat skills. This makes for great combat sequences, which is good, since that makes up the bulk of the book. It helps that he's in a world of all sorts of unimaginable animals and monsters, living uneasily with humans.
I say unimaginable, but Geof Darrow imagined it. Also, in no way was I ever lost, and the lizards’ dialogue is pretty funny. Top marks on the writing.
Which only leaves the art, also by Geof Darrow. I have seen his work before, so I knew what to expect: Tons of detail that is occasionally distracting but rewards re-reads with the tiny stuff going on away from the main action. Maybe I was just in a good mood, but I was more entertained than irritated by all the distractions.
I’ll be around for the second issue, if for no other reason than to find out how the lizard’s story ends.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
I am a pretty big fan of the Shaolin Cowboy and have been ever since his debut. He was even killed at the end of one mini-series, yet came back to life in the next. Can you believe it?
Captain Comics said:
I may have to get the previous Shaolin Cowboys then. This issue didn't really tell me much about who he is or why the world is such a mess. Do the others?
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Well, no, not really. They're heavy on action and heavy on detailed artwork. Problem is, my various mini-series are scattered among at least three boxes. I've been meaning to take the time to bring them all together. Maybe now is the time to do that. I do think you should get the previous series, though. (Everyone who likes a good rollickin' comic book should.) Maybe there's a collection in the works. If there's not, there should be.
Captain Comics said:
It looks like Dark Horse has released TPB and HC versions of their first three Shaolin Cowboy miniseries, subtitled Shemp Buffet, Start Trek and Who'll Stop the Reign? The original seven-issue Burlyman series seems to have only been collected once, by Burlyman, in TPB, in 2014. I don't know how many of these are available; Amazon only lists one HC (Shemp Buffet).
If DH ever releases an omnibus, I'll snap that up.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
I gathered my various Shaolin Cowboy series together for a potential re-read. Not including the new series, only 15 issue s were published in 13 years. They always seen to come out when I least expect them... and when I do expect them they don't come out! The first series started in 2004 from Burlyman Comics as a bimonthly. It debuted alongside Doc Frankenstein, the two together being two of my favorite comics of the 2Ks. Shaolin Cowboy started as a bimonthly, but six months passed between issues #3 and #4, six between #4 and #5 and, although only two months passed between #5 and #6, eleven passed between #6 and #7. That issue ended with, "Wait wait... It's not over yet... or is it?" (Incidentally, the indicia listed these seven issues as volume 54.)
It turned up next, six years later (2013) from Dark Horse. Dark Horse must have required that the entire series be in the can before they put it on the schedule because these four issues shipped on time. The main character was killed in the last issue and, as happy as I had bee to see him back, I never expected to see him again. Four years later he returned, again from Dark Horse, in the four-issue series "Who'll Stop the Reign?" which again shipped on time. This brings us up to 2017. Skip ahead again another five years to 2022 and the beginning of "Cruel to Be Kin." That brings the total up to 16 issues in 18 years.
Because of the Shaolin Cowboy's sporadic and erratic publishing history, I've never sat down to reread it, but maybe it's about time I do. I'm confident the seven issues of this series will ship on time (provided they're all in the can). If so, that will bring the total up to 22 issues in 18 years.
"This issue didn't really tell me much about who he is... Do the others?"
"Well, no, not really."
Actually, details of the Cowboy's past have been revealed in dribs and drabs but I had forgotten. "Volume 54" begins in medias res with the Cowboy riding his mule into an ambush. "Fed up with his continuous and ignoble defeat at the hands of his arch enemy, [King Crab (an actual crab)] decides to amass an army of the numerous enemies the Shaolin Cowboy has made over the years and forms the Revengers: dedicated to destroying the Shaolin Cowboy once and for all." It takes ten pages for Darrow to pan over King Crab's assembled Revengers.
"A Crab's Story" (issue #2) tells the origin of King Crab and of his hatred for the Shaolin Cowboy. "The Cowboy and the mule saunter into the trap, but with stoic aplomb the Cowboy disbands the assembled Revengers and defeats King Crab in a hand-to-claw dual that ends, as usual, with ignoble defeat for the crusty Crab."
Issues #3-7 defy description, so I will continue to draw upon the summaries provided by Lord Evelyn Dunkirk Winnieford Esg. III, the Cowboy's mule. (These "ass-ologues" are the only part of each issue not written by Darrow, but by the Wachowski brothers.) "Leaving the King to ponder his latest defeat and his dim future, the duo... wander into the aftermath of a massacre and find a mysterious baby who is being pursued by three demon fathers: Father Ma, Mr. Excellent, and Skippy "G." they lay claim to the baby and a fight ensues, during which an enormous city formed on the back of a creature of continental proportions emerges, and the creature swallows the Shaolin Cowboy and Mt. Excellent's head. The Mule, with the baby on his back, races toward the unbelievable city, pursued by Father Ma and Skippy "G," who are injured when the baby absorbs their Chi and uses it to break their grip on him, transforming him back into his true form: the Monkey.
"The Shaolin Cowboy, in the belly of the beast, finds that he has inadvertently returned Mr. Excellent to his home. Using first and army of sharks and then an army of the dead, led by his wife, Mr. Excellent seeks revenge of the Cowboy for the atrocities he feels the Cowboy has heaped upon him and his family of the dead. In a relentless pursuit that leads into the Colin Powell and then into several layers of hell that test his intestinal fortitude, after six years the Shaolin Cowboy escapes out the back door of the living city, just as it returns to the bowels of the desert, taking the Mule and the baby, now a Monkey."
Regarding the bits of the Cowboy's past, #1 reveals that he was "asked" to leave the Shaolin temple. He was also similarly asked to leave Mug O'Gold, a techno/rock/pop/polka/fusion band in which he played bass. Issue #3 reveals that the various dinosaur species which roam the desert are clones, and that the Cowboy once served in the Vatican Guard of Pope William Robert the First (the "first Texan Pope, affectionately, but respectfully, named Pope Billy Bob [who was] best known for his efforts concerning the legalization of concealed weapons for clergymen and church members, as well as marriages between all cousins").
At Some point the shaolin Cowboy worked as the assistant manager of Keokuk, Iowa's only Gastrix Service Station.
Issue #5 introduced his unique double-chainsaw, which he used to fight a great white shark.
DARK HORSE #1-4 - "Shemp Buffet":
As I mentioned above, v54 #7 ended on a cliffhanger in 2007. Shaolin Cowboy turns up next at Dark Horse with a story that begins "six years later" in a "new number one" with no volume number. A "The story so far" feature summarizes (presumably) the first 54 volumes in two three=-column pages of teeny tiny print. Unaware that he is still being pursued (by an army of zombies, see above), the Cowboy emerges from the center of the Earth into the desert, when he must make a stand against the zombies. First, however, he has a brief run-in with a carload of slacker/stoners (or stoner/slackers). Issues #1-2 are entirely action as he fights off the zombie horde with his unique weapon.
Halfway through #3 he runs out of gas and is forced to retreat to the perimeter of the horde running across the top using the zombies' heads as stepping stones. Issue #4 is entirely hand-to-hand combat. As the pace of the battle increases, the panels get smaller. As the number of opponents decreases, the panels embiggen until they become full-page panels. The Shaolin Cowboy has won! Then he is shot from behind by the losers from issue #1, through and through, falling to the ground dead.
In 2014, I had no reason to believe this wasn't the end of the Shaolin Cowboy. This series, largely wordless, also featured pin-ups by many guest artists. A collected edition should include not only these pin-ups, but all of the sundry variant covers as well. (I always buy the Darrow ones.)
NEXT: "Who'll Stop the Reign?"
"Who'll Stop the Reign?":
"Shemp Buffet" was nearly wordless but "Who'll Stop the Reign?" is positively verbose.
As I indicated, I had no reason to believe, in 2014, that the death of the main character didn't (in this case) mean the end of the series. Three years later, the story picks up right where it left off, with three (talking) vultures circling a field of zombies and [what they think is] Shaolin Cowboy's corpse. The Cowboy isn't quite dead yet, though, and uses his training to recover from the gunshot wound. He makes his way to a road and, although a variety of cars pass, no one stops. A demon appears to usher him to Hell, but he fights it off in astral form. By this time, King Crab's satellite system has detected his presence and King Crab sends one of his generals, Hog Kong, to find him until he can arrive to take over personally.
Hog Kong hates the Shaolin Cowboy almost as much as King Crab does. King Crab's origin is recapped with new details. He now has a "fiancée" named Shelley, whose head he sits on and whose body is under his complete mental control. King Crab (or is it Hog Kong?) also has two (talking) pit bulls with knives for forelegs. These dogs become unique weapons when the Cowboy grabs them by the tail and swings them around.
The losers who shot the Cowboy are also in the city, and the paths of all the characters converge. The Cowboy defeats King Crab and Hog Kong, but the losers get away with the shooter only losing a finger. After King Crab has been separated from Shelley she reverts to her original self. The Cowboy forgives her because she was not in control of her actions, but I'm not sure she deserves his forgiveness. At the very end, the Cowboy avoids BBQ and seafood, opting for chicken instead, possibly setting up his next major arch villain.
Shaolin Cowboy is subtle satire in a not-at-all-subtle comic book. I'm fairly certain the objects of Darrow's biting wit would not even be aware of being the targets if they read it (as I'm sure some do), and would likely number themselves among his biggest fans. Or maybe I'm wrong.
...which brings us up to the latest series...
"Cruel to be Kin"
I read the first issue, then paused before continuing until I had reread the first 15, which I have now done. I will say (to new readers and to old readers, too, I guess) that there is nothing in any of the previous series that will help you figure out what's going on here: WYSIWYG. The main story is told from the point of view of a newborn baby lizard befriended by the Cowboy. At first he save the lizard from being eaten by its father, then they are both attacked by Jojo Sampson, a "baby-man" who rides atop a giant, floating jellyfish collecting Chi.
After defeating Jojo Sampson (in typical Geoff Darrow fashion), the baby lizard's dad returns for a rematch. After that, Jojo mutates and the giant floating jellyfish emerges as the true (?) threat. The main story is a flashback told within a framing sequence set in the present day of the lizard, now grown and living in the city, relating the story to his own son, upon seeing the Shaolin Cowboy again. This issue (#3) catches us up to the present, so we should be able to follow the remaining four issues in "real time."
ISSUE #4: The flashback, in which the baby lizard continued to travel with the Cowboy, still had six days to play out, but a lot happened in those six days. Now that the flashback has caught up to the present, the "baby lizard" (now an adult) offers the Shaolin Cowboy the hospitality of hos home. The Cowboy takes a job as a short order cook. Two of the losers who attacked him in "Who'll Stop the Reign?" come into the diner seeking revenge. The set off a bomb, destroying the lizard's home and his entire family, but the Cowboy survives.
ISSUE #5: The Cowboy takes on racists. Good vicarious self-actualization transferal.
ISSUE #6: Two-fisted political allegory.
ISSUE #7: The series that reminds us with every single issue why we vote.