Kingsway West is a fantasy western graphic novel series that is written by Korean-American comic book author Greg Pak and illustrated by Mirko Colak, Simon Bowland, and Wil Quintana. The story takes place in the Old West that is crackling with magic and follows a Chinese gunslinger named Kingsway Law. After spending thirteen years in a ruthless war, and becoming famous for his murderous talents, all Kingsway desires now is a simple life with his wife, Sonia. However, when a lady with a red-gold sword brings bloody chaos to his doorstep, Kingsway must find a way to keep himself, his conscience, and his wife safe from doom and gloom.
Oh man, where do I begin with this. When I first discovered that there was a graphic novel, a fantasy western graphic novel jam-packed with multicultural qualities, I was mind-blown. It is a rare find, but a much welcomed one. However, after sitting down and blowing through the first volume (possibly only volume?), I am left feeling languished, both in good ways and horrid ways.
Kingsway West follows many classic tropes, the overarching one being a redemption story that is akin to Rurōni Kenshin. We also have the different groups of people who are after the biggest, baddest treasure around involving mines and “gold,” oppression, and territorial disputes. Really, it has everything you could ask for in a good western. Then you can toss in fantasy characteristics for an odd genre-bender, such as mythical creatures, magic, and an air of supernatural essence. All of these things come together to make Kingsway West unique and original regardless of the commonalities to the Western genre, setting it apart from other graphic novels out there today.
Some of the facets that I found to be wholly pleasant included the action, which was violent but not unnecessarily graphic. There are some scenes of grotesque gore, but it is limited to specific situations rather than being pasted in every single panel of every single page. Now, I love hardcore blood and guts and graphic ripped flesh, but I also appreciate it when a story tones that down to help focus the narrative on the characters and plotline instead of selling me on the pretty sprays of scarlet. It’s sparingly utilised to enhance the intensity of the loss or the “oh fuck” moments that occur.
The same thing can be said about the foul-language. You won’t find “fuck” or “motherfucker” on every single panel of every page either. It is used parsimoniously to add effect to a particular scenario/conversation/etc. As someone who curses all the bloody live-long day, I also found this to be very charming. Once more, it helped keep me focused on the world-building and the people.
Speaking of world-building, I loved the use of magic as the main treasure that everyone is after. It’s called “red gold” and has some very cool effects, as well as some startling consequences to dependents. There are some folks called engineers who have managed to become technologically advanced because of it as well. Couple these with fun monsters like miniature dragons and jackalopes, and you have a pretty fantastical universe going. However, the element that interested me the most were the empires and political intrigue.
You’ve got multicultural empires vying for supreme power and territory ownerships. The three major cultures in play are: Chinese, Native American, and Mexicans. Then you have White people who are kind of in the background hoping to get their hands on that superior treasure so they can come out and steal everything from beneath the rugs of every other player involved. Meanwhile killing and destroying all things that pose as obstacles. These things create an atmosphere that is heavy with political tension and strife, and dripping in saddle-blazing, shoot-outs. I cannot express how phenomenal it was to see so many people of colour in the story. My heart fluttered with excited glee.
The artwork in Kingsway West is beautiful. The drawings are done in a sketch style with dark colours that are then outlined with black pens, creating a dramatic and intense look during fight scenes. A light hand with the black pens also helps heighten the softness of moments of intimacy and despair. The dark colours are surprisingly rich and vibrant rather than being subdued and gritty, making it visually stunning.
Nevertheless, even with this stockpile of amazing qualities, Kingsway West fell unbelievable short on the quality metre, being rushed, unfocused, and unfinished. Nothing is flushed out enough, by far. The whole volume provides morsels of the aspects that I have shared, just enough to whet your appetite and leave you hungry for more while confused as all hell.
Some examples would include the creatures: we see them for a minute or two only to never see them again. Wendigos are mentioned but never make a single appearance. Red gold is the be-all-end-all of treasure, but there is a significant lack of information on what it is in its entirety, how the power works, why it’s bad, etc. There are three separate time jumps within the first five pages of the volume, and then flashbacks later on that can bring the fluidity of what you’re reading to a jarring halt momentarily, if the overwhelming presence of missing material doesn’t beat that to it. Then there are the issues with the world-building and the politics; the stuff I was most-enamoured with.
We never see any Mexicans in the narrative and only know of them and their strength as a political power from conversations between the characters. A brutal war is mentioned throughout the book, yet once again there is very little information about it, which considerably lessens the impact of what it meant to the people who fought, the lives lost, the ramifications on the power plays—all that jazz. There is little to no data given on the separate empires—how they came to be, what they’re after, their beliefs, what they fight for (aside from power and red gold). It was so fucking frustrating to get so attached to the universe and then to reach the “End” page with tons of unanswered questions. The finale also made me supremely agitated as it came to an abrupt and ambiguous close with a tiny smidge of context, if you could even call it that.
Overall, Kingsway West was a colossal disappointment. Now, I haven’t heard anything about the series continuing forward, which if it does then hell yeah! Hopefully they will expand on everything that was introduced here. Yet, if this truly is the end of the series, then all of the potential that was envisioned here falls to a terrible waste.
I would recommend this for people who enjoy multicultural diverse storytelling in the graphic novel medium, as well as westerns and fantasy and alternate histories. Just go into knowing that you won’t get much meat off these bones. I do not recommend this to people who prefer a fully fleshed out story, who don’t like westerns or ambiguous endings.