If you’re a fan of Geof Darrow, Shaolin Cowboy: Cruel To be Kin isn’t just any other comic, but an event. If you’ve been reading AIPT for a few years now you might know I’ve reviewed the first issue of the two previous series leading to this story. This series follows Shaolin Cowboy and Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? which are both great examples of artistry and the weird combining into a fine wine. This is a series that’s not meant to be understood so much as felt and you’ll continue to feel it with Cruel To Be Kin, which kicks off this week.
Written and drawn by Geof Darrow, if the devil is in the details then Darrow is literally satan. When all is said and done, between Shaolin and his work on books like Hard Boiled and his renderings for The Matrix, Darrow will go down as the quintessential detailed-focused artist in comics. The opening full-page splash of a run-down city with fires burning and giant ants scooping up cars is proof enough. Darrow has rendered every window, every loose cigarette on a sill, and every lizard that hangs out on a roof.
Besides the art, this first issue could be described as very weird. Ignoring the talking lizards, little details like signage that’s a pun or a joke or how the entire story is told from the perspective of a lizard who encountered the Shaolin Cowboy as a baby. It’s not an easy book to pick up if you didn’t read previous chapters, but then again, there isn’t a lot to the Shaolin Cowboy. That makes all the insanity, weirdness, and unexplainable elements all the more strange.
Then again, there isn’t much needed to know about the Shaolin Cowboy either. He’s a Buddhist kung-fu master who wanders and seems to find trouble from bullies. Previous installments tended to focus on fighting with little dialogue and it appears Darrow realized as much by giving the lizard the floor. His captions and pop culture references are strewn throughout, giving us something to read along the way. This allows Darrow to give us some insights into what is happening rather than seeing it and registering it all via visuals.
If you’re looking for deeper meaning, you’ll find it in the trash that piles up or the graphite on the once beautiful environments. Humanity has trashed the earth and Shaolin Cowboy just lives in it, trying to find peace. One can imagine it’s the far future after humans totaled the planet and maybe opportunistic jerks like the man in the purple cat costume who flies a giant jellyfish were part of the problem. Whatever the case, it’s not really the point to find meaning, but take in the incredible details and small jokes that literally and figuratively litter the ground.
This issue is also masterfully colored by Dave Stewart. There are earthy tones throughout the desert and incredible details in the cityscapes. Lettered by Nate Piekos, it’s fun to see little touches like word balloons breaking through into gutters or how captions are part of the gutters too.
Shaolin Cowboy: Cruel To Be Kin is a work of art in more ways than one. It’s positively weird, and likely the weirdest comic you’ll read all year. Pair that weirdness with the incredible visuals and Shaolin Cowboy will take your breath away. There’s nothing else like Shaolin Cowboy in comics or in any other media.
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