When Dark Horse announce they had a new comic series that was part Once Upon a Time in the West, and part Princess Mononoke, they had my curiosity. Having read the first issue of Kingsway West, they officially have my fullest attention. Greg Pak’s series attempts to combine my favorite genre/setting, the Wild West, with honest-to-god magic, and the results are highly intriguing.
The premise is simple enough: in 1848, a Chinese mining company discovers a substance called red gold in the territory of California. The Chinese form Golden City around said cache, and for the next 16 years, the Chinese and Mexicans in the territory proceed to duke it out.
The story appears to pick up after this time period, when the ashes are still settling, and some fighters within the conflict are attempting to make their way. Greg Pak is keenly aware of Western genre tropes, namely the post-Civil War setting, but he’s managed to lean on this familiar trappings to create an entirely new conflict. As readers, we instantly recognize the North/South conflict, despite having two entirely different factions, and a different central conflict. It adds a much-needed new flavor and spin, which goes a long way, here.
It works especially well, as a backstory, because of the implications of red gold. Obviously, if a substance which could produce the magic phenomena demonstrated within the issue were to ever be found, the power struggle over who controlled said substance would be long-reaching. It’s obvious that, throughout the series, this conflict will be even bloodier than has already been hinted.
Speaking of long-reaching, it appears the red gold has also affected the flora and fauna of this California, producing mutated and outright magical creatures. Mirko Colak and Wil Quintana really sell the setting with the art, to that point. You have Wild West gunslingers, some of which are in traditional Western attire, others in full-blown Chinese period costuming, and then a dragon floating through the sky like nobody’s business. Which is one of the reasons this first issue works so damn well: the setting is presented in such a casual “as you do” fashion. Delightful!
The story follows the standard loner gunslinger character, Kingsway Law, who has a bounty on his head (because Western), and was clearly associated with one side in the conflict. Within the confines of this issue he meets his wife, loses his wife and meets a potential ally, who also happens to be female. Normally, I’d balk at ye olde “I must find my wife” plot, but I’m going to go with it for one of two reasons: 1) the addition of a dynamic, interesting female ally softens the blow a smidge, but more importantly, 2) I can already tell this series is going to be rife with flashbacks. Law’s wife, in her few pages, is shown to be a capable woman and I imagine we’re going to see more of this as the story unfolds. That is, she’s not going to be the standard female romantic companion, just waiting for her gruff husband to find her.
I think my favorite part is that we finally have a Western that deals with one of the primary participants in the development of the west, the Chinese immigrants. As a big fan of the Western genre, we often see Chinese immigrants as background players. Deadwood might be the only show which attempted to expand upon their involvement in any meaningful manner and even then, I wouldn’t call it a flattering or dynamic portrayal. But, then, I suppose Deadwood didn’t much flatter anyone, except Al Swearengen. I digress.
Not only are we seeing a Chinese character playing as star within a Western tale, we’re seeing an entire mythos and culture built around it. Hot damn. There is so much to love with the series, conceptually, and Pak definitely fans the hammer in this initial issue. I have huge hopes that he is able to keep up this momentum and intrigue.