New comics day is a sleepy day.

*Micro Review Dept: Oh those crazy cats at Avatar - after all that build, Garth Ennis’ 303 could only really have ended in one of two ways, at least in my mind, and the concluding issue #6 was certainly… one of them. I think I need to read the whole thing over from the beginning now; I’ll have a thorough piece on the whole series somewhere soon.

Shaolin Cowboy #4

Now, you slant eyed, chink breathed, jap ape… we’re gonna nip your bud and rip out your liver… eat it, then shit it out, out on a Domino’s pizza and make you eat it with chopsticks made out of your own fingers!!!!!!!

Now there’s six cents worth of diatribe.”

Nope. There is definitely not more of a pure blast of entertainment to be found on the comics racks today; this is alarmingly close to my ideal ‘fun’ book, brawny and bloody but not afraid to be kind of brainy too. It’s proudly and genuinely eccentric, an authentic sequential oddity, drunk on language and radiating with personality, even as it's gleefully avoiding the buckling load of providing a point to all of its happenings.

This issue is basically a book-length fight scene, and a continuation of last issue's fight scene at that; often, there’s no faster route to storytelling stall or tonal exhaustion than all-out action, as many creators frankly can’t handle the flow of nonstop movement whilst juggling supporting dialogue and characters, but writer/artist Geof Darrow is fully fluent in the language of fights, and he’s intent on stuffing each panel and page chock-full with material while miraculously keeping it all clean and snappily moving. There’s very little of the reckless visual clutter or hyper-detailed minutia aplomb that one might be forgiven for expecting, given any exposure to Darrow’s popular Frank Miller collaborations of the past. No, this time out he’s loading the desert wastes with wordplay and monologue as his figures dance and clash, each bedecked with personal visual detail, the tiny lizard holding one combatant’s underpants up, and the bruises on the silent title character’s face, and the hairs on Our Hero’s steed’s scrotum. Peter Doherty somehow makes the colors pop, despite the same hues appearing over and over, brown sand and red shirt and white ass, and it's a good match for Darrow's dance of one cast in one setting, never dull.

Basically, the Cowboy is fighting for his life against Mr. Excellent, an ancient skull (being carried around by a bird), which exerts some measure of mystic control over the fly-ridden desiccated remainder of ‘its’ body, actually an independent, martial-arts capable ‘son’ (which used to be a chiropractor - details like this are common fodder for the book). Surveying the action (and occasionally interceding) are a pair of floating mystic lizard things (one of which speaks in Darrow's approximation of hip-hop slang, something pleasingly chintzy and just far enough left-of-hip to fit right into the book's universe) and the Cowboy’s very own Ass, Lord Evelyn Dunkirk Winnieford Esq. The Third, a chatty white donkey who likes to make puns (his very last line is my personal favorite for this issue, although several characters have a fine time with the term ‘chi’), but mostly complains about things. There’s some sort of larger story at work involving a tiny baby who channels all of the world’s Chi, although really it’s all about Darrow putting his characters through their paces, and flexing his action comics muscles.

Indeed, when it comes down to pure fighting chops, you won’t find clearer and crisper action art anywhere else on the stands; Darrow is preternaturally adept at keeping his many on-panel characters in place, his blocking of action scenes always logical and smooth, even as the Cowboy leaps on and off his steed, Mr. Excellent’s head floating in and out, characters' weapons unsheathed and duly lost - everything is in its place. Just look at that three-page sequence in which the Cowboy engages in hand-to-bone combat, craftily using Mr. Excellent’s momentarily seized skull as a shield in nearly every panel; Darrow makes it look very easy, but most books cannot manage this level of galloping ferocity, especially not while throwing out three characters’ worth of accompanying chatter all at once.

Sure, folks itching for a detailed, intricate plot are shit out of luck with this book; it’s all about looping verbal tomfoolery and refined visual kinetics, with characters defining themselves mainly through roundabout words and Darrow’s gorgeously expressive, writhing designs. The Cowboy spends all his time riding his Ass through the desert, and after four issues one can understand why; the desert can provide its own rewards with fauna and demigods like this to cartwheel through it, and Darrow is relishing his god’s eye view.

*Tomorrow: Seven Soldiers, a series I think I may have covered in the past.