In what could be considered a relaunch, The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine is a take off from the popular, but short-lived, Shaolin Cowboy series started almost a decade ago. Premiering in 2004, Shaolin Cowboy ran until 2007 with only 7 issues in its entirety. For such a short-lived piece, it did pretty well; maybe not initially financially, but it did win creator Geof Darrow the 2006 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award for Best Writer/Artist. Not too shabby for only 7 issues.
The 2012 release of The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine harkens back to the days of pulp novels littering the newspaper stands of a bygone era. In a transition from the original format, this new incarnation of Shaolin Cowboy is less graphic novel and more of a hard-boiled crime novel with illustrations. This takes place in a desert wasteland with the occasional border town, as opposed to the back alley of some unnamed gotham. It sometimes reads like an other worldly incarnation of Sin City, which is apropos since Darrow has previously collaborated with Frank Miller.
This current collaboration, however, is with Andrew Vachss, a writer so accomplished that I could sit here and type out his awards, but I'll get carpal tunnel from other activities, thank you. Vachss and Darrow compliment each other nicely on this project, each bringing their own tastes and influences to the table for a veritable buffet of bada--.
The main story in The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine revolves around a man who looks like the future incarnation of Short Round trekking through the desert with periodic stops of kindness, mystery, and unhinged, off-kilter humor. You don't often find stories about expelled monks in a dystopian society inhabited by super cognizant animals, biologically enhanced crime lords, and minions so dumb they occasionally need a reminder to breath. This book actually has puns that don't make you want to become lactose intolerant due to their cheesiness. While tackling obstacles like mobs of villains, profanity spewing birds named Creamsickos, and the care of a young girl thrust upon him by delivering her from the evil known as T.A.'s Pedophile Paradise, our story waits for the next day. Mule and rider trek onward to another adventure yet unknown.
The second segment of this publication is a short story by Michael A. Black titled "Time Factor" about a military unit and doctor that must go back in time to retrieve the previous team from being lost to the dust, sand, and ravages of time. They also want to make sure they don't leave anything behind that may affect the outcome of the future, even if that means one of their own or their remains.
This theme may seem fairly similar to that of an older tale involving the effect of a man stepping on a butterfly in the past, but this story does make reference to that. I can't say that it excuses the format of the story, but what can you do? Some people would automatically dismiss this story based strictly on that, since it is in print. If it were on screen, no one would blink an eye. The concept of time paradox is well worn territory in Hollywood, from The Time Machine to Back to the Future and beyond. It's been beat to hell and back. In the land of consonants and vowels, it is always fertile territory. Even though it does seem like it could be boiled down to Stargate meets Jurassic Park, I would suggest reading it for yourself and basing your opinions from there.
The final piece that makes The Shaolin Cowboy Adventure Magazine so reminiscent to the pulps of old are the little, half-page comics or "Helpful Hints" peppered in between the pages. From proper assembly of your Black and Decker Weed Whacker to the correct usage of a handgun, these little interstitial pieces really glue together the feeling that you've stumbled onto a dusty, old box of magazines while cleaning out your grandma's attic. Don't stay up there too long, though; there's a lot of asbestos and Dark Horse will be calling you down for dinner soon.
Wash your hands. It's time to eat.