Writer: Geof Darrow
Artist: Geof Darrow
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Flipping through The Shaolin Cowboy #1, a book full of violence, zombies, weaponized chainsaws and a main character who has been buried underneath a boulder for six years, you can see that Darrow finds peace in those details. For Darrow, those details are life and energy. The details are the story more so than any dialogue or plot are. Darrow makes sure that every detail he can fit can get into the page but he knows how to construct those details. Darrow’s eye for details in this violent and bloody story reveal a world that has many wonders in it if you just spend the time to really look at them.
It’s been six years since the last The Shaolin Cowboy comic and Darrow acknowledges the lengthy hiatus with a two page recap, text printed at the smallest possible type. For all except those with exceptional eyesight, it’s nearly impossible to read, a joke for the most obsessive continuity fan. The plot for this six-year later issue? The Cowboy digs himself out from under a rock he’s been buried beneath and fights a horde of zombies in the desert. While fighting the zombies, a video of the massive brawl goes viral and captures the attention of a spy satellite who seem to be gathering information through internet videos.
The Shaolin Cowboy has never been a comic that you came to for plot. That’s a byproduct of Darrow’s choreographed chaos. Through the pantomime of the chaotic action, Darrow builds plot and character. The Cowboy rarely speaks, runs away from a fight more than embraces it but when he has to fight, that’s where Darrow’s bloody details become more than just endless noodling on the comic page. Like The Matrix movies that he worked on with the Wachowski siblings, the action in The Shaolin Cowboy turns into a dance. After spending most of the issue running away from the undead,the Cowboy turns and faces them. Darrow turns the desperate running into an all too brief ballet of zombie bloodshed, where limbs, torso and blood move too and fro across the panels. You get lost in the details, watching the mayhem of ugliness being drawn with with joy and purity. Darrow’s blood and guts are exploitative but they are also part of the ballet of action and details that make up Darrow’s comics.
More than the details, Darrow’s artwork is about precision. Most of the silent pages are full of drawings that are more precise in their execution than they are exciting or moving. His eye for putting down an image leaves little room for any reaction from the reader other than an excitement in the image itself. The Cowboy moves through this issue without ever engaging with the reader. We become a witness to a series of events that removed from us because Darrow never gives us any point to know the Cowboy as anything than a whirling dervish. In the original issues, Darrow gave the Cowboy wise-cracking sidekicks that provided characterization that balanced the action. Without those in this issue, all of the action becomes spectacle without giving the reader any reason to care about the violence and bloodshed.
The peace exists in those images, snapshots of maiming and decapitations where time flows and the actions make sense. Darrow stops time with his drawings. You stop reading as you get caught up in the images, awed by every rock and every festering wound that’s drawn on the zombies. The Shaolin Cowboy #1 is not about those moments of action and movement but about the ones where you stop and just concentrate on the image that Darrow is presenting. There’s awe in the technical precision of the drawings but there’s also awe in the creator, an artist who can find the confidence, patience and imagination to show us his world so clearly.