The Shaolin Cowboy Start Trek HC
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: July 18, 2018
Price: $24.99
Creator: Geof Darrow
Format: 200 pgs., Full-Color, 8"x12", Hardcover
ISBN: 978-1-5067-0903-1
Age Rating: 16
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

With The Shaolin Cowboy Start Trek, Geof Darrow fans now have the long awaited and much anticipated original 2004 series collected in a beautiful hardcover edition.

Originally published as a seven issue series and collected in 2014 as a trade paperback, the initial Shaolin Cowboy was published by Darrow’s own Burlyman Entertainment.  Highly sought after by collectors, single issues are often difficult to track down and expensive when discovered.

Dark Horse Comics and editor Daniel Chabon have done an excellent service by bringing this collection out, particularly for fans of the most recent iteration, Shaolin Cowboy: Who’ll Stop the Reign?  But while Start Trek contains all seven issues and the covers (variants too), it fails to collect the humorous additions by the Wachowskis (Matrix), the rear covers showcasing Shaolin Cowboy in various comedic and hilarious scenarios, and a series of black and white drawings Darrow included in issue 7.  Readers fortunate to own the Burlyman publications will note their absence in this new hardcover and no explanation or introduction as to why (were rights to some Burlyman material unavailable?).

Those familiar with the other Shaolin Cowboy series will immediately recognize the pattern here in Start Trek: Shaolin Cowboy and his trusty steed (donkey) wander throughout the desert only to happen upon a cohort of hillbillies, mercenaries, and assassins all led by the nefarious King Crab. In true Shaolin Cowboy fashion, he dispatches the would-be adversaries in a deluge of ultra-violence and horror.  Later adventures pit the titular, silent hero against a talking severed head and a cadre of killer great white sharks.

New readers will find Start Trek momentarily comical but most of the actual humor comes from the sheer absurdity of the concept—a lone martial arts expert traversing the desert.  In fact, Shaolin Cowboy can be seen as Darrow’s tribute to the 1970s television show Kung Fu, in which a Shaolin monk came to America and got into wild adventures each week.  Yet, where Kung Fu had a viable and strong narrative structure, Shaolin Cowboy does not.  As with most self-authored Darrow comics, Shaolin Cowboy has breathtaking visuals with a story that is not as strong.  Readers have seen it before, know what they are going to get, and cannot wait to buy it anxiously.  True Darrow-philes, this reader included, will devour this latest volume; but for new readers, there is a long gulf that this single volume cannot traverse.

--Nathan Wilson