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Kingsway West #1 has the virtue of being unique, I’ll give it that. Created and written by Greg Pak, the series takes place in an alternate version of the old West, suffused with magic and the supernatural, the action taking place in a radically different frontier that’s recovering form a thirteen year war. In this world, the West coast of America is ruled by a Chinese nation known as the Golden Mountain Empire, who warred with the Mexican ruled Republica of Los Californias over possession of “Red Gold”, a strange magical substance found by the Chinese in the mountains of Northern California.
That set-up is wonderfully crazy and imaginative and you can genuinely say you’ve probably never seen anything like it before. That in itself is a rare thing not just in comics, but in stories in general. When you add the fact that the protagonists of this series are going be Chinese and Hispanic for the most part, you get an even more refreshing aspect that sets “Kingsway West” apart. It’s obvious from the start that Pak has been building this world in his head for a long time, and the specificity and detail he provides goes a long way to grounding the concept and getting you on board with what could have felt impenetrably unfamiliar.
Pak’s unique setting also allows him to provide us with an archetypal western figure as central protagonist without the character feeling tired or old hat. Kingsway Law is Chinese and a veteran of the thirteen year war. Like countless gunslingers before him, all he wants is to forget his violent past and live a quiet life. But, like every Western hero from Ethan Edwards to William Munny, life has a way of drawing him back into bloodshed and pain.
Pak expertly mixes the seemingly irreconcilable qualities that make for good Westerns and good fantasy, with six-guns and laconic dialogue complimenting winged soldiers, weird beasts and dragons. Does it feel weird and bizarre? Yes, but in the best way. The only complaint is that the amount of world-building in the issue almost becomes too much, reaching a density that could baffle rather than enchant if Pak isn’t careful to space it out and ground it more in the characters. But when it comes to providing an intriguing and unconventional hook to a debut issue, I’d be hard-pressed to find a more original premiere.
The art by Mirko Colak is, for the most part, very good. He captures the Western tone and integrates the magical elements into the setting very well, making things just off-kilter enough. The action is well handled, with the moments of explicit violence never feeling gratuitous or done for shock value. The only quibble I would have on the art side is that occasionally, Colak opts for a layout that muddies the progression of action. There’s a moment, for instance, where the female protagonist uses some “Red Gold” and I’m unsure exactly how. Kingsway enters into this action scene in a way that doesn’t give him as strong an entrance as the moment deserves, either. But these aren’t huge things that ruined the book, just a few things that I would have liked to be given more clarity or emphasis to provide greater effect.
All in all, Kingsway West #1 boasts an original vision and is all the more refreshing due to its focus on ethnicities that often get decidedly short shrift in mainstream comics. It’ll be fun seeing where Pak and Colak take Kingsway from here, and I’m giving it 8.5/10.
Kingsway West #1 will be released by Dark Horse on August 24, 2016.