I had the pleasure of diving into the first two issues of the new Dark Horse Comics series KINGSWAY WEST, written by Greg Pak with art by Mirko Colak. If you’re not familiar with Pak’s comics work, he is well-known for writing extended runs of Marvel’s HULK and X-MEN series, the creator of current Korean-American Hulk’s alter ego Amadeus Cho, and is also writing the BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA/ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK mashup series, all easily explainable by the fact that Greg was dipped into the River of Awesome Geekery when he was just a little baby. 

KINGSWAY WEST is of the dystopian-science-fiction-magical-Western genre, and also there are monsters. Its premise revolves around the main character, Kingsway Law, a Chinese gunslinger and survivor of a war in which (and don’t quote me on this ’cause I haven’t quite absorbed it yet) Chinese and Mexican factions battled over a supernatural substance called Red Gold in….yas. CALIFORNIA, baby. It’s an alternate history of the Gold Rush and its aftermath, set in an 1860s America where pretty much everything went different. Kingsway’s a retired gunfighter who is pulled back into the conflict by a sword-wielding dancer named Ah Toy, while his real goal is to reunite with his vanished wife, Sonia (a Mexican woman, also a veteran and survivor of the first “Red War.”)

Got all that? Oh, and also the Red Gold apparently turns people into monsters, of which few are seen in the first two issues, but many are hinted at to be on the horizon.

I am immediately drawn to the world of KINGSWAY WEST, and found many things to geek out over. The art by Colak evokes to me the chiseled work of Moebius and Barry Windsor-Smith. The story, while reminiscent of threads from Old Man Logan/Wolverine, Game of Thrones, and Stephen King’s Gunslinger series, establishes a confident sense of menace which is staking out new territory. Also what can’t be overlooked is the deployment of Asian-American and Mexican-American history, themes, and tropes which lend a refreshing race-bent twist to the familiar Western setting of ghost towns and six-shooters. 

For one thing, “Kingsway Law” is like the perfect name for a Chinese-American hero in this case, with both a punnable Cantonese-derived family name and one of those kinda-ridiculous-but-somehow-badass first names that Chinese immigrant families sometimes give their children. (You know, the Chinese-American guys who are named Solomon or Jesus or Bartholomew, et al.) The references to a Golden City and other California-specific historical places make me smile, as a native Cali kid. And I guess it should be mentioned that there are also dragons, although not (as of yet) SPECIFICALLY CHINESE DRAGONS.

At its core though, KINGSWAY WEST seems set up to be a love story between two people of color, trying and failing to escape a life of violence. It does nod to purist Western stories like UNFORGIVEN and, uh, like six other Clint Eastwood movies. And I love that in this alternate timeline, one of the encroaching threats is the officious powers of something called the United States of New York — nothing like adding a little East Coast-West Coast beef into the dramatic mix to make me feel like I’m in the hands of a perceptive storyteller. 

I’ll be writing and podcasting more about Greg Pak’s work in the near future, including the upcoming guest appearances in his HULK series by none other than Jeremy Lin, Hahvahd Kid/NBA player extraordinaire. Right now I’d say that, for a series about an alternate-universe past that seems destined to unravel the present America that I live in, KINGSWAY WEST is off to a great start.