There are times when something new comes along. Something that just smacks you across the face and screams “LOOK AT ME! I’M CRAZY AND NEW AND ORIGINAL!!” The realm of the comic book medium is such that you can have these moments with an at times startling regularity. The depth of artists and writers available to ply their trades throughout the comic landscape is deep and plentiful. You’ve got the big two in Marvel and DC that have their daring stories of superhero goodness, and while they may not often have anything wholly new or fresh in their main slate of titles, both have their own imprints (MAX and Icon on the Marvel side, Vertigo and Wildstorm for DC) that allow for some flexing of the creative muscles. Of course, beyond the big two is where you start to see the really wild stuff uncorked. The second tier that rounds out the overall big five consisting of Dark Horse, Image, and newcomer to the big boy’s table IDW, have had their fair share of madness force itself upon the reader. Indeed, the two properties that are at the core of this article are new books with a similar release history that have been unleashed by Image in the last half year.
If you follow anything related to comic books online, and you manage to pay even the slightest bit of attention to the non-Marvel or DC goings-on, you’ve probably at least heard of Chew. The story that came out of nowhere from John Layman and Rob Guillory hit the stands and sold like crazy on its limited print run. First printings of the debut book were selling for $50 or more on eBay. Everyone seemed to want to read it, but no one could find it. The story is that of a not too distant future where all poultry products have been banned due to an avian flu epidemic. A chicken selling black market has sprouted in response, and chicken smuggling speakeasies are in constant danger of being raided by the FDA, who have become a sort of de facto mix of the FBI and SWAT. Enter Tony Chu, a low rent detective with a sickeningly effective psychic power. He is cibopathic, which means he can get psychic readings from anything he eats. It makes him quite the detective, but also forces him to eat any manner of disgusting things to get to the bottom of cases. The first arc, “Taster’s Choice,” wrapped up last month, focusing on Tony Chu being recruited as a new operative of the FDA while he tries to solve the mystery of the death of a food critic. Of course, something more sinister is going on underneath the scene, and we’ve just gotten a taste (pun completely and absolutely intended) of things to come.
This book is, for all intents and purposes, brilliant. Tony Chu’s power, which is also shared by another FDA agent, the gigantic and terrifically designed Mason Savoy, allows for the perfect mix of comedy and general grossness, and the key is the way Tony reacts to his power. He knows he must do what he does for the greater good, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it. Tony hates what he has to do. His peers and bosses are both disgusted and freaked out by him. He’s constantly harangued by everyone but Mason, and still soldiers on. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the story gets bigger and crazier over the course of these first five issues, but all of it feels genuine. I certainly can’t think of the central idea ever happening before in anything I’ve read, and sure it’s a genre book at its core, but it’s so unique and refreshing in its execution that you can’t help but fall into to whole madcap goings on of this off beat world. There have been multiple printings of the first arc, so the single issues hopefully shouldn’t be too hard to find anymore, and one would assume that a trade paperback is upcoming. Find it. Read it. Marvel at its originality. Love it.
But Image wasn’t done there. Oh no. We also get to enjoy the wildness of Cowboy Ninja Viking. I should mention something. I’m very glad I listen to comic book podcasts. I’m a busy guy on a day to day basis, and I never get a chance to look at Previews (by Previews, I am referring to Diamond Distributors catalogue that they release every month of the current comic book solicitations, which are for books being released two to three months in the future). I’ll check the text format Previews that DCBS (Discount Comic Book Service, my online comic ordering site of choice that saves me tons of money month to month), but that’s usually just to check on an ancillary book from the Big Two (ah, hell, who am I kidding? Basically just Marvel). So I miss out on a lot of books (Chew was also a good example of this). I need podcasts to tell me what I missed. Another new Image Comics release, Cowboy Ninja Viking, is a perfect example of that kind of book.
I can personally thank Comic Geek Speak’s excellent podcast for turning me onto Cowboy Ninja Viking. This is a good thing, because with a name like that, I would probably never have given it the time of day. I am a geek, and I’m very much embroiled in geek culture. However, there are aspects of the geek culture (the irrational love of ninjas being one of them) that have a tendency to irk me. So a book with a title like that just seems childish on the surface. But then you see it. You see its Golden Age style size (which doesn’t fit comfortably in my comic boxes, humorously enough). You see the art, which strongly evokes Casanova, one of my favorite comes ever, what with its somewhat scratchy style and stark, two tone color style (the fact that the color used in the issue seems to be the same shade of blue Fabio Moon used in Casanova’s second story arc presumably reinforces the comparison). You see the story concept, which consists of a shadow agency recruiting people with three split personalities (“triplets”) to be the perfect assassins. You see the way each of the titular hero’s word balloons are altered to determine who is talking (the outline of a revolver for the cowboy, an axe for the Viking, and a sword for the ninja), you see the whole package as something that’s just actively different.
The art is gorgeous. The story is engaging. The dialogue is wacky but grounded and contained. The potential is immense. The second triplet you see at the end of issue one is just a glimpse of where this book could go. It’s all about the possibilities of the future, and in the case of both Chew and Cowboy Ninja Viking, Image’s future is looking pretty bright.
This post was written to the tune of The Beatles’ Revolver