Best Shots Advance Reviews: KINGSWAY WEST #1, CHEW #57

"Chew #57" cover by Rob Guillory
Credit: Rob Guillory (Image Comics)
Dark Horse August 2016 cover
Dark Horse August 2016 cover
Credit: Dark Horse Comics

Kingsway West #1
Written by Greg Pak
Art by Mirko Colak and Wil Quintana
Lettering by Simon Bowland
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

It doesn’t take much to deliver a great western. Take a stoic yet noble protagonist, throw in a couple of gunfights and a larger overarching conflict, and you have all the makings of at least a decent entry into the genre. But while Kingsway West #1 provides all that and more, it also does readers one better by providing some pretty substantial worldbuilding.

Writer Greg Pak takes the solid foundation of rough-and-tumble westerns and builds upon it a rousing fantasy story that posits a very different and very dangerous version of the American West. Also along for the ride is artist Mirko Colak and colorist Wil Quintana, who provide this debut with the kind of dusty and hardened artwork that is expected for a story like this, while peppering in all sorts other influences ranging from the historical to the fantastical. By taking advantage of well-worn genre beats and providing a world that is both lived in and interesting, Kingsway West #1 soars.

Kingsway Law is a man running from his past. Once a great warrior for his people, he is now a lone gunslinger trying to make his way in a world that refuses to leave him be. This is just one of the many western archetypes Pak uses to his advantage in this debut. Starting with Law’s violent introduction, his subsequent “retirement” from the horror of his past, and his unwilling return to his lead throwing that made his name infamous, Pak makes great use of these tried-and-true beats, making them feel fresh simply because Law isn’t just another downtrodden white guy. By making Law not just an iconic western hero but a Chinese western hero, Pak not only takes a big step forward for representation, but gives himself a protagonist worthy of the rich world he’s created.

And what a world that is. From the opening page, Kingsway West presents a very different kind of United StatesCivil War, one that completely changed the entire landscape of the United States. After the discovery of a magical substance called Red Gold, China rose to power in the U.S., building a new golden city after a brutal 13-year war with the burgeoning Republica de los Californios and the rebel Freelanders, the cause in which Law fought for and lost. With just one map and a multitude of well placed bits of dialogue, Greg Pak makes the world feel like a living, breathing thing and not just tacked on set dressing. Even better, Pak’s world building, though extensive, never feels overwhelming or in need of a clunky info-dump in order to sell it to readers. It simply is which makes Kingsway West #1 simply great.

Also doing their part to sell the world is Colak and Quintana, both of who meld the western aesthetic with traditional Chinese costuming and high fantasy. Colak provides his visual thesis right at the start of the issue with its first action sequence in which Law is confronted by two agents of the Golden City who are looking to collect the bounty on his head. Detailing the gruff protagonist, a strange creature of this new world, and two gun-toting buttonmen clad in costumes straight from a Shaw Brothers film, Colak lays out exactly what kind of visuals he is going to be playing with throughout, tied together by the rich eye-catching colors of Quintana.

But while he acquits himself well to western gunfights, Colak also revels in the strangeness of this world as he delivers eerie nighttime pack movements of monsters with glowing eyes and magic missile-like Red Gold explosions once again enriched by the moody colors of Quintana. Genre-bending isn’t exactly unexplored territory for artists, but rarely have a team worked within the conventions of said genre while still delivering such unabashed displays of fantasy and cultural influences like Colak and Quintana have here.

With its diverse cast, firm understanding of western story tropes and a rich world just waiting to unfold, Kingsway West #1 is an action-packed and engaging opening gambit for Dark Horse’s new series. Greg Pak, Mirko Colak, and Wil Quintana not only deliver a great story, but also a world that hasn’t even broken the surface of what it has to offer in terms of story potential. It may not take much to deliver a great western, but it takes a whole lot more to deliver an alternate history that feels as rich as this one does. Thankfully, Kingsway West #1 certainly delivers that and more.

Credit: Rob Guillory (Image Comics)

Chew #57
Written and Lettered by John Layman
Art by Rob Guillory and Taylor Wells
Published by Image Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

It’s like they always said — a spoonful of killer FDA agent makes the exposition go down.

As John Layman and Rob Guillory begin their final arc on Chew, we’re given an unexpected smorgasbord of answers to some long-running questions, but in this case, their eyes might be bigger than most readers’ stomachs. With only a handful of issues left to wrap everything up, it’s obviously important to get resolution, but the sheer overload of information might be difficult for even die-hard Chew fans to swallow.

With the mystery of the avian flu outbreak having loomed over Chew since its very first issue, Layman puts his cards on the table this week - he just happens to have a ton of cards, and sifting through all of them puts the brakes on this issue’s momentum early. Having finally cracked through deceased FDA agent Mason Savoy’s beet-laden defenses, Tony Chu is bombarded with new revelations - of course, given Savoy’s verbose style, it’s a lot to digest, with even Tony’s partner Colby saying, “Forget it, forget it! Sorry I asked.” Layman peppers this script with tons of foodie vocabulary as he breaks down the avian flu conspiracy in sometimes exhausting detail, but even for someone who’s followed this series loyally since the beginning, it can be a little difficult to parse through terms like viohortunaluses, cibolocutors and cibopassims, let alone understand why their plan might have been flawed from the outset.

While the actual exposition might be a bit of a challenging undertaking (especially so early in the book), Layman’s structural stills remain on point, giving Chew the momentum it needs as it enters the home stretch. As Tony and Colby make their way to the island of Yamapalu - which the ghost of Savoy helpfully tells us is a mecca of food-powered people - Layman brings the focus of his story back to Tony Chu as a character, whose law-and-order personality is often at odds with the inherently gristly nature of his occasionally cannibalistic superpowers. While all the different foodie twists have given Chew its unique flavor as a title, it’s ultimately the characterization that winds out here, as Layman delivers more than one surprise that not only tests Chu’s morality, but his limits as a hero.

Rob Guillory, meanwhile, remains as a consistent and versatile as ever - while he occasionally has to take a back seat to some of Savoy’s wordier monologues, he injects a nice bit of expressiveness and humor to his characters, particularly the various ways Tony Chu can look irritated. (And believe me, there are many, but few are as funny as Tony shouting at a squirrel, who in turn gives the FDA officer a very confused side-eye.) Yet while Guillory might be best known for sneaking in gags into his pages (like more than one Castaway reference), he also possesses a surprising amount of fluidity to his characters’ movements, like Tony and Colby parajumping to the island, or a flashback of Savoy rushing toward us. Guillory also uses color to great effect this issue, with the red-tinged flashbacks giving both a lovely energy and a blood-tinged sense of danger to key moments in this issue.

Over the course of 57 issues, Layman and Guillory have been spinning a lot of plates, and ultimately, it’s not going to be surprising to see a few of them wobble - but that’s not to say that this team can’t end Chew on a successful dismount. With only three more issues to go, there’s still a lot for this creative team to say, and part of the mystery of this series has been that we don’t know which secret plot is ultimately the most important. Is it alien writing in the sky? Is it the hallucinogenic gallsaberries? Is it the avian flu? The Collector? Or is Tony Chu’s greatest challenge still lurking in the shadows? Layman and Guillory bring up even more questions even amidst their answers, and while that might leave this particular installment in danger of being overstuffed, there’s still lots to like about the last days of Chew.

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