'The Shaolin Cowboy' returns courtesy of Dark Horse Comics

Cover to ‘The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign?’ Art by Geof Darrow and Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

By Brad Sun. It’s been more than a decade since the debut of Shaolin Cowboy, Geof Darrow’s sporadically ongoing series chronicling a kung fu master’s violent journey through a monster-infested desert wasteland. More than 300 pages later, our hero’s still in that same desert, with any semblance of a plot or storyline still yet to emerge. To call Darrow’s pacing decompressed would be like calling a chainsaw-wielding zombie-killing warrior monk a wee bit over the top.

But that’s precisely the point. Shaolin Cowboy isn’t so much a narrative as it is a toy chest overflowing with whatever gonzo abominations Darrow feels like playing with at the time, and his signature Moebius meets Where’s Waldo style leaves us more than willing to go along for the ride. From baby-stealing pterodactyls to neo-Nazi dogs with knives for legs, there’s nary a millimeter of panel that isn’t filled with something hilariously disturbing or inventively profane.

Interior page to ‘The Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign?’ Art by Geof Darrow and Dave Stewart/Dark Horse Comics

Darrow approaches his dialogue in much the same way, but with more mixed results. Every word balloon is crammed with as much profanity, pop culture wordplay, and obnoxious social commentary as space will allow. But despite the endless barrage of topical references, there’s not much of a political message here, just a vague feeling of disgust towards the dumbass hypocrites that populate Darrow’s twisted funhouse mirror version of modern America. While Hard Boiled, his early Nineties collaboration with Frank Miller, brought a irreverent poetry to its satiric rage, this latest chapter of Shaolin Cowboy seems too bitter and nihilistic to even bother with making a point.

No matter. Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign? is filled with enough visual delights to more than make up for its heavy-handed crankiness, even if at times you may be tempted to skip the text and just stare at the pretty, pretty pictures. With the artistic freedom and raw talent to create whatever the hell he feels like, Geof Darrow delivers comic booking in its purest form: an unfiltered, unrefined dose of creative id delivered straight from the artist’s brain to the reader’s eyeballs. It’s an all too rare occurrence that’s well worth savoring.

Dark Horse Comics/$3.99

Story and art by Geof Darrow.

Colors by Dave Stewart.

Lettering by Nate Piekos.

Variant cover by Frank Miller.

8 out of 10