Cowboy Ninja Viking #1
Writer: A.J. Lieberman
Artist/Tones/Cover artist: Riley Rossmo
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Editor: Kristen Simon
Publisher: Image Comics/Shadowline imprint
Price: $3.50 US
Image Comics has had a number of sleeper hits as of late, among them, Chew, Viking and the resurrected King City. All are unconventional comics that seem much more at home in under the Image banner than they’d be at Marvel or DC Comics. Cowboy Ninja Viking is another such comic book, and it has all the potential to be another surprise hit for the publisher. A.J. Lieberman’s plot, premise and script — all of which are reminiscent of Matt (Invincible Iron Man) Fraction’s creator-owned work such as Casanova and Rex Mantooth — demonstrate he’s got his tongue planted firmly in cheek as he merges three cool adventure genre archetypes into one bizarre character. Riley Rossmo’s sketchy, gritty art style tempers the weirder, ridiculous qualities of the book nicely, adding a certain intensity that keeps the storytelling from turning into a farce. All told, this is an entertaining and morbidly fun comic book with minor flaws that will hopefully fade as the series continues.
Duncan is one helluva messed-up individual. He’s got these voices in his head, and each one is a trained killer with a short fuse. But you know what? His multiple-personality disorder isn’t even the weirdest thing about him. Those other voices were trained to be killers by an eccentric genius and millionaire, and Duncan’s creator has need of him. The powerful and mysterious man sends his agents to find Duncan and bring him in because an even more dangerous killer is on the loose, one Duncan is uniquely qualified to fight.
Rossmo’s style is quite reminiscent of that of Jock, best known for his work on DC/Vertigo’s Losers and an upcoming fill-in stint on Detective Comics. One could also describe his artwork as a cross between the styles of Michael (Sandman) Zulli and Chris (New Avengers) Bachalo. The artist brings a lot of mystery and intrigue to the storytelling by immersing many characters’ faces in darkness. He further reinforces the dire atmosphere with cool blue tones. My only qualm with the art is Rossmo’s unfortunate decision to present key characters with almost identical designs. Two or three (I’m not even sure how many, that’s how confusing it is) male characters are depicted as having short light hair, wearing dark suits. And since the script also endeavors to foster an air of the mysterious, it doesn’t provide all the cues necessary to determine who’s who.
Another visual element that impressed was the unusual technique that letterer Clayton Cowles takes with some select word balloons. He incorporates the shapes of weapons into the internal dialogues among Duncan’s warrior personalities. At first, it’s a little confusing, but after a couple of panels, the meaning of the odd shapes becomes quite clear. Given that this is a monochromatic comic and colors can’t be used to distinguish various voices, the weapon-shaped balloons is not only a novel approach to setting those voices apart, but it also drives home the more playful, oddball side of the premise.
The biggest problem with the script is the interview scene with Sara Nix and one of those light-haired guys in a dark suit. I realize that Lieberman is working to foster an atmosphere of intrigue and mystery, but he’s in danger of losing his audience at that pivotal point in the story. Of course, the ending provides many of the answers, bringing an end to the reader’s head-scratching.
Ultimately, it’s Lieberman’s balance between the campy appeal of the three-in-one warrior hero of the book with a somewhat logical explanation for it that makes the premise work so well. Cowboy Ninja Viking is quite funny and weird, but there’s still a cool, edgy factor at play as well. Lieberman has managed to have his cake and eat it too, as he satirizes adventure genres while also revelling in them. 7/10
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