Beyond the Big Two – Cowboy Ninja Viking

Do you like Cowboys? Ninjas? Vikings? Movies about gladiators?

Make a list of the greatest stuff in the world, and you’ll get a what’s what of geek favourites: zombies, boobs, a T-Rex, etc. Usually, even the finest entertainment can weave in, at most, two of these things in a natural way.  Boobs and zombies? BAM! Boobs and a T-Rex? BAM! But what about those of us that dream bigger? What about wanting three of our favourite things in one easy, readable package? Enter: Cowboy Ninja Viking.

The story follows Duncan, a schizophrenic whose gift and curse is having his three split personalities each trained as a different style of assassin. For all intents and purposes, a cowboy, a ninja and a viking live in his head. The plot of how Duncan ended up this way, or who’s tagging along with him, is fairly inconsequential. More important: A cowboy, ninja and viking kill people. ‘Cause really, if you’re reading this book, it’s not for the romantic subplot.

Anachronisms are badass.

There’s other tri-personalities (referred to as ‘Triplets’), all of whom are as equally deranged and fun. The split personality device lets the title go in pretty much every direction, and can weave in any cool historical figure or character type without losing cred. Want a gladiator? Sure! Want a deep sea diver? Why not! Add one pirate and you’ve got a bonafide arch villain.

A.J. Lieberman’s writing is fun, though the humour does feel forced at times. And while the supporting characters and plot points can get overly complicated, Lieberman’s excellent at giving each personality his own distinct voice. It also helps that each has his own word balloon icon to help us out: the cowboy’s text bubble has a gun, the ninja has a sword and the viking has an axe.

What ultimately makes this title a winner is the art. With intentionally rough brush strokes and a crass three-colour palette (which, more often than not, includes magenta), Riley Rossmo’s art style is divisive. Readers coming from the slick ‘n’ shiny Big Two offerings might feel put off by panels that feel raw, even unfinished. But those who stick with it are rewarded with a surprisingly energetic style that pushes forward only what’s absolutely needed. And with characters as complex as this, the help is appreciated.

The art is also given room to breathe via the unusual page size – about an inch wider than everything else you’re reading. Dubbed the ‘Golden Age’ format, the odd shape will stick out on your shelf – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Zing!

The book is published by a division of Image Comics called Shadowline, best known these days for their creepy, porno-esque Bomb Queen. It’s a commendable move for an imprint trying to carve a new identity out of its cheesy 90’s superhero roots. And  it seems to be working: Cowboy Ninja Viking got upgraded from a 4-issue mini to a monthly ongoing before its release, just on hype alone. Not too shabby!

Cowboy Ninja Viking is special in that, from the name alone, you’ll know if the book is for you.  And you’ve gotta admit, even if you’re anti-Viking or if ninjas killed your family… aren’t you still curious?

The first trade is available on Amazon.