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Playing Cowboys & Dragons: Kingsway West #1

Written by Mike Ambrose on Monday, August 29 2016 and posted in Reviews

Playing Cowboys & Dragons: Kingsway West #1

Another contribution to the alternate-history-fantasy/sci-fi-influenced-western renaissance.

Source: Dark Horse Comics

Created and Written by: Greg Pak
Art by: Mirko Colak
Colors by: Wil Quintana
Letters by: Simon Bowland

Trends in the non-superhero mainstream of comics can be an interesting thing to watch. An independent creator makes it big with zombies and 5 years later there are a rash of forgotten zombie comics filling dollar bins across the continent. Horror, sci-fi, crime, noir, and fantasy have all had (or are having) their moments too. This kind of genre diversification is a good thing, but the cynic in me can't help but see creators looking for the next big TV or movie deal.

Which brings me to Kingsway West #1 and the revival of the Western, or more specifically, the alternate-history-fantasy/sci-fi-influenced-western.

Non-Cynical Take: Westerns are cool. Alternate history is a genre of speculative fiction that holds a lot of promise. People do seem to love supernatural stories. Genre diversification is, once again, a great thing.

Cynical Take: Preacher (heavily inspired by westerns with a supernatural element) is now a TV show. East of West (alternate history/sci-fi western) and Monstress (western inspired fantasy) are both popular comics. And there are, at least after 1 issue of Kingsway West, a number of thematic and conceptual similarities between it and those other two books.

So with that preamble out of the way, how does Kingsway West #1 stand up on its own?

Very good, if somewhat familiar. It's not just because of the similarities to other properties, but with a heavy reliance on some standard western and fantasy tropes, this doesn't feel entirely new.

The protagonist, Kingsway Law, fills a number of those key points on that checklist: he's part mysterious stranger, part war hero-turned-traitor trying to leave it all behind, part savior to his people. Even the fantasy elements aren't entirely original - a limited and highly sought after mineral grants magic powers.

Looking at the individual pieces, this comic has the potential to be derivative. But it may be because of this familiarity that it works so well. In Kingsway West #1, we get a hero that's immediately recognizable and likable in a world that is both familiar and odd.

As with the characters, the story in this issue is a somewhat familiar tale of our hero tracking down and rescuing his abducted love. There are scenes that indicate the story will move beyond that, and the world of Kingsway West #1 does as much to hold reader interest as the story does.

Colak's art goes a long way to making Kingsway West #1 work, treating the fantastical elements with a sort of gritty realism you might expect in a straight forward western - his dragons look as at home in this world as a crow might.

He doesn't shy away from depicting the violence expected in a western story. Though at times bordering at gratuitous, the depiction of gore is limited enough to serve the story, telling the reader a lot about the effectiveness of Kingsway Law and the cruelty of the empire's army.

Through it all, Pak plants the seeds for a deeper story exploring issues of nationalism and racism. This world is far from a utopia, and Pak doesn't seem to be shying away from some of the allegorical elements of this story.

Kingsway West #1 takes a lot of familiar elements and puts them together in a way that, despite not being entirely new or innovative, still results in an entertaining comic. And while familiar, there is still a lot about this world and it's history that stands on it's own and invites readers back to learn more.


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About the Author - Mike Ambrose

Mike Ambrose isn't slow, he's just Canadian. Mike began collecting comics in 1991 with an allowance earned by doing chores on the family farm, snapping up anything that said "#1 Collector's Item" on the cover, including X-Men, Sleepwalker, and NFL Superpro. That is to say, Mike knows bullshit. These skills were further developed and finally acknowledged when he graduated from a well-regarded journalism and public relations college program. Mike lives in a surprisingly nice house in a pretty good neighbourhood with his loving girlfriend. Aside from comic books of all types, Mike enjoys cooking, rap music, and the rule of threes.
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