It seems like our culture is in demand of some fantasy or science fictionalizing of the western with this series and HBO’s Westworld coming out. It remains to be seen if either that or Kingsway West, a new series from Dark Horse Comics, will pull off a fantastical western, but let’s take a look. Is it good?
Kingsway West #1 (Dark Horse Comics)
So what’s it about? The Dark Horse summary reads:
After spending thirteen years in a war that made him a monster, a Chinese gunslinger named Kingsway Law just wants to live in peace with his wife, Sonia. But even in a fantastical Old West crackling with magic, a man of his skills can never quite disappear. So when a woman with a red-gold sword brings bloody chaos to his doorstep, Kingsway must fight for his life, his wife, and his very soul.
Why does this book matter?
Greg Pak has a compelling historical fiction on his hands here that involves dragons, magic, and steampunk technology. It’s 1837, but besides the cowboy hats not much is what we’d call historical. There are a lot of new and cool ideas at play here though, which is exciting.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Fantasy fans who love maps with their stories rejoice!
Pak is clearly writing a wide sweeping epic, based on the helpful map to open the issue, to the captions that get us inside the protagonist’s head. It’s a hard road he’s on, and even in this single issue time seems to play by its own rules. Pak flashes forward multiple times, from hours to years back to hours, which makes the narrative feel as though we are in on important beats for the characters.
Why the world is the way it is is never explained, but that creates a mystique that’s addictive. The best stories show and not tell and this first issue is very good at that. Strange scary monsters may lurk in the shadows, but our heroes aren’t scared as they know better. Since we don’t, our interest is only ramped up further. That includes the races that are at war. Clearly, something happened to bring China to America (or at least the America as we know it), set them at war with each other and brought in Mexico too. Pak is clearly going to–ahem–unpack these complexities and in many ways we’re in his hands with this first issue.
There’s a gunslinger with a dark past who finds a forbidden love and is now a reluctant hero. You can just see the archetypes at play when reading this. A call to action is made, bad guys are everywhere, and a mysterious elixir is out there for the heroes to claim before the bad guys do. This has the inspiration of Joseph Campbell’s Heroes with a Thousand Faces written all over it.
The art by Mirko Colak is effective at capturing the war-torn land and the monsters that live in it. The environments are all well rendered–especially a moment our protagonist has in a berry patch–as well as the war-torn land that wars were once fought on. Costumes look good too and nothing feels out of place even though everything is since it’s a weird quasi-past.
It can’t be perfect can it?
The time jumping does have a negative effect, particularly with the protagonist’s love life. He presumably cleaned up and became human again, but we don’t see that. We see the beginning, but Pak cuts past all that leaving the motivation to go back and fight limp. We may see flashbacks going forward, but it’s hard to gauge the heroes’ reluctance or reason for it.
Being dropped in the world also has its negatives. Seeing characters fly, or dragons whisp around is somewhat confusing. The actual McGuffin of the tale isn’t explained either beside it being magic. Why any of this is going on hurts your ability to understand the world and with a somewhat stereotypical edgy hero it’s hard to grasp onto anything as the story pushes forward. I was dying to read the next issue because of this. All will be revealed eventually I’m sure, but this issue doesn’t give you a reason to keep going.
Is It Good?
This is a fine first issue that drops you into an incredibly vivid and different world. It has little connection to our own despite it being set in 1800s America. This is sort of like Saga in that there’s lots of great ideas, but it lacks a strong character to drive it along.