Each week we take a critical look at some of the best books on the stands, courtesy of Big Guy's Comics (the unofficial comic book store of FanboyPlanet.com). If you publish a book that you want us to be covering, contact us. Or contact Derek. He doesn't have enough to do.

This week, CrossGen directed us to an advance look at their newest book, The Way of the Rat, which goes on sale May 15th. Here's our resident CrossGen expert Charlie Wentling's take on it.

Preview: The Way of the Rat #1

Let's see: CrossGen has sci-fi, fantasy, Victorian pulp fiction, and soon horror. One thing very obviously missing is Hong Kong Cinema. But that's about to change.

Way of the Rat tells the story of Boon Sai Hong, a thief also known as the Jade Rat. A member of the Brotherhood of Scoundrels, the thieves guild in the city of Zhumar, Boon was an orphan raised by Boss Tiger, the leader of the guild and local crime boss. Before the events of this first issue, we can only assume that Boon led the life of a simple thief.

Then everything changes for Boon in an instant. He is sent by Boss Tiger to steal a gem called the Phoenix Heart, which his information says that is in the home of scholar Wing Tei Sun.

Boon breaks into the house, but doesn't find the gem. Instead he discovers the body of Wing Tei Sun, seemingly dead from fright. Rather than have his evening be a total waste, Boon steals the scroll that the scholar was reading as he died, and as a bonus, a gold ring from the corpse's finger.

Discovered before he can escape, Boon ends up pursued by several different factions. Unbeknownst to him, the ring and the scroll are both powerful magical artifacts. The Ring of Staffs gives its wearer master-level skill with the fighting staff in addition to other unknown abilities. The Book of the Hell of the Hungry Dragon (I love that name) has the power to show the future to the one reading it. Wing Tei Sun saw something so frightening in the scroll that it stopped his heart.

Tei Su, the daughter of the dead scholar, has told Princess Zheng Mai Lo about the two artifacts, and the two of them are determined to get the ring and scroll back before they can fall into the hands of Judge X'Ain. X'Ain is a corrupt and powerful man who had sent his men to steal the ring, but unfortunately for him Boon got to it first. Boss Tiger also wants the ring and scroll as payment of the debt that Boon owes him. Other unidentified parties are after Boon as well.

The only ally that Boon has is a talking monkey named Po Po. Yes, a talking monkey. Boon seems to meet the monkey by chance while on the run. Boon himself is freaked out by the talking monkey, which suggests that talking animals are just as unusual in this setting as they are in the real world. It doesn't appear that anyone other than Boon can understand what the monkey is saying, but as Po Po has the orange eyes of CrossGen wisdom, Boon had better start listening.

All of this adds up to a promising start to a new series. Dixon introduces a lot of characters, but it never gets confusing or hard to follow. None of the characters have much depth yet, but that should come with time. This is the first chapter in a six-issue arc. CrossGen has said they are going for the feel of a Jackie Chan movie, and they are successful. The action is quick and exciting, and there is a nice bit of humor too.

Jeff Johnson does a great job with the art. The setting does look like a medieval Chinese city, with the architecture, the clothing and the people all looking authentic to my untrained eye. The martial arts sequences look great. Whenever Boon does flips and jumps, Johnson draws him multiple times in the same panel so you can follow his movement, and it works well.

The country of Shinacea where this series takes place is at war with Nayado, which is the fictionalized version of Japan that is seen every month in The Path. I would expect there to be some sort of crossover between the two series in the future. The emperor of Shinacea has appeared in The Path, and will no doubt show up here in the future. The First could appear here as well. It is quite possible that the Ring the Staffs is actually one of the seven weapons of Altwaal.


Charlie Wentling




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