Plot: Meet Duncan, alias Cowboy Ninja Viking, an assassin with multiple personality disorder. Each of his three personalities correspond to one of the eponymous occupations. He’s been enlisted by the “rogue neuro-behavioral psychologist” who created him to take out one of his fellow MPD assassins. Yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds.
Comments: Full disclosure: I expected out of Cowboy Ninja Viking a four issue fight scene that, while well-rendered, would be as ephemeral as the title suggests. The three archetypes would be pit against one another to cash in on the current popularity of cowboys and Vikings in comics (ninjas, while not part of any craze, are always present--especially if we can’t see them). Sure, it’d be fun, but still you’d wonder why you spent fourteen bucks on four issues that ultimately amount to CLANG BANG BASH.
These expectations affected my reading of Cowboy Ninja Viking #1, making it one of the biggest surprises in recent months--not only because it features an actual premise and characters or even that Image Comics had enough faith in the book to expand it into an ongoing before the first issue even came out. No, the biggest surprise of Cowboy Ninja Viking is that it works.
A.J. Lieberman, best known for his DC work like Batman: Hush Returns and that 2007 Martian Manhunter mini-series where he has the pointy head and kind of ugly costume, emerges as a writer to watch. Ambitious in his scripting of a comic book called Cowboy Ninja Viking, Liberman often shows and only tells when it feels natural, forcing readers to piece together what’s going on. This can get confusing at times, considering the fragmented narrative that jumps between the present and three days in the past, but the readers who aren’t completely lost catch up by the end of the issue, but have enough questions that carry on into #2.
It’s hard to read Cowboy Ninja Viking #1 and not think a little of Casanova. While nowhere near as dense as Matt Fraction’s seminal work, there’s wild, pop culture-savvy ideas in an espionage context with a tone as snarkily comedic that takes a tremendous amount of glee in its awe inspiring moments. After all, the book is called Cowboy Ninja Viking.
You can also see it in Riley Rossmo’s art, which is black and white with blue tones reminiscent of Fábio Moon’s run on Casanova. The similarities end there, as Riley Rossmo’s art was clearly made on a graphics tablet in that sketchy Ashley Wood sort of way, creating a surprisingly impressionistic book. Probably a good idea for a comic where the title characters all exist in one guy’s head.
Cowboy Ninja Viking #1 has a great payoff with its final page, which had me giggling for a good minute at its “shocking” revelation. I can’t wait to see what’s next and, more importantly, if the premise can sustain an ongoing series.
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