(IDW and Top Shelf 2015)
By Chris Sheridan
There’s something about a western. Since I was a little kid, playing on the floor of my grandma’s living room with toys once belonged to my uncle, the images of cowboys and Indians racing across the desert has always had a strong pull for me.
As I grew older and more…ahem…refined in my tastes, I learned that the form of a western is found throughout popular media. It doesn’t take an intellectual genius (or a tell-all interview) to draw the comparative parallels between The Magnificent Seven and Star Wars. Han Solo is a gunslinger and Chewbacca his faithful sidekick.
The Motorcycle Samurai is not The Rifleman. This IDW and Top Shelf book from writer/artist Chris Sheridan is more Kill Bill than Bonanza. But it is for certain a western, and it’s become one of my new favorites in the comic genre.
Focus on the desert, the lone gunman, or…in this case, sword woman, White Bolt, a katana for hire who has just nabbed the baddest of the bad, the most wanted man in the west, Happy Parker. The mission, to return Happy to those who placed the bounty on his head, his sister, Boss Parker, mayor of the town and widow of the late sheriff.
Boss is a cruel mistress, and keeps the town under her boot through a mixture of fear and violence, the latter mostly hinted at throughout the book. Her other brother Pierre, who sulks about looking evil in a gas mask with a hawk on his shoulder, is the other villain, called “the iron king” by the townsfolk.
The current sheriff, Roy Keane, is a war hero, a member of the “Flying ‘47th” and the golden boy, the moral compass of the piece. They’re all thrown into the mix, and whosoever claws their way through the rubble at the end will be the winner. Scheming and backstabbing ensue, along with swordplay and fisticuffs. This is exactly what you want from a western.
Aside from the storytelling, which follows the format to perfection and throws a few curveballs along the way, we’re also graced with Chris Sheridan’s art. Trying to place what this feels like is hard for me. For some reason, I’m reminded of the early Nickelodeon original cartoons, like Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren and Stimpy, those kinds of styles. But there’s another aspect to it that I can’t quite place, and it’s all the more fun to look at because of it.
It is by no means realistic art, but Sheridan has the ability to imbue his drawings with the essential character that makes them who they are, through his art and the style in which it’s represented. You can tell by the basic design of White Bolt that she’s a badass. You can see that Roy Keane, in personification of his oh-so-American name, is the hero, albeit slightly older and a little broken down. That, I suppose, is another aspect that his shares with those old westerns. The characters, because of the way they are first represented, are cemented in you mind and in the story in a way that makes them concrete. (Too much masonry metaphor?) They are who you think they are, and even the double-cross is expected, because that’s what happens in a good western.
Chris Sheridan notes in the forward that he got help along the way. Comic legends like Geoff Darrow, Mark Waid, and Jeff Lemire all supported Sheridan. But the core story, the one that I love so much because of the western aspect and influence, is all Sheridan. (And how can you fault a guy who works this phrase into a panel?)
The Motorcycle Samurai is a western to be sure. It’s also a samurai comic. A revenge story. It’s everything you want to read in a comic book, and most of what you want to see in a film. Sheridan sets the pace high and revs the engine right through to the end.
Twitter – brad@comicwasteland