(Dark Horse, 2013)
Review by Shawn Warner
Written & Artwork by Geof Darrow
Color Artwork by Dave Stewart
This issue is a triumph in the medium of sequential art. Geof Darrow has told one of the year’s most detailed and engrossing stories without the appearance of a single printed word. Darrow creates a ballet of violence spanning thirty-three pages consisting entirely of double-page spreads divided into upper and lower halves; the focus of every one of these spreads is the Shaolin Cowboy bisecting a multitude of undead assailants through the implementation of two chain saws attached to either end of a bamboo staff. And every one of them is a work of genius, Darrow composes each spread with meticulous attention to detail, there is not a single word in this book yet I spent hours digesting the voluminous amount of information contained in each of these visual compositions. The intricate depiction of minutiae such as the flesh eating scarabs feasting upon the attacking horde, various discarded drink containers and a menagerie of broken skulls and bones serves as a framing device to center the action in each section of a given spread. However, as much as each page is an individual work of art, Darrow’s true genius comes through when the work is viewed as a whole and you see the fluidity of panels flowing seamlessly together almost as if they were frames of film, the succession of images leads the eye through the narrative adding elements to the story with each passing page. Darrow begins the narrative with the cover image which flows directly into the plot wasting not a single page before inundating us with kinetic imagery, the Cowboy leaps from the cover into the marauding mass of zombies and from that point on carnage ensues.
The absence of word balloons is not the only thing that separates this book from the usual fare, a so-called “silent” issue is not all that unusual in fact it was done quite well during the Death of Damian arc, however what Darrow does in this issue is tells a complete story almost in real time. Every image documents a movement in an economy of time, seconds mean actions and actions in this case mean violence but violence of a poetic nature. The motivation behind this book is to tell the story of a single scene in hyper-detail of the Zen like peace found by this man in the act of wholesale slaughter of his enemies. This is a story of one man and his desire to lose himself in the moment by indulging his darkest desires on an almost athletic level; this is the evolution of sequential storytelling.
Geof Darrow saw beauty in the act of this man destroying his attackers with twin chain saws and he set that beauty upon the page to share with us. This issue is simply a whirlwind of ferocity and we get swept up in it for the duration of thirty-three pages. I love Geof Darrow and have since the very first time I was exposed to his work in Hard Boiled and Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot (both of which he won Eisner Awards for); the detail, the choreography and composition of his work, I found it all so appealing and it’s all here in Shaolin Cowboy.
This may not be the book for everyone particularly this issue but if you are a fan of amazing artwork and brilliant use of sequential storytelling this is one you will not want to miss. I’ve read this issue multiple times already and plan to read it several more in the next few days. It is one of those books that you find more things to love about the more times you read it. If you haven’t had the extreme pleasure of experiencing Geof Darrow’s work, do yourself a favor and pick this up, I think you will be glad you did. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next issue.
Follow Shawn Warner on Twitter: @shawnwarner629