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Advance Review Brew: King Tiger #1 (Dark Horse Comics)

PCU_LOGO_ReviewBrewWriter: Randy Stradley Artist: Doug Wheatley Let's get this out of the way up front: there's no way for me to review King Tiger without reference to Star Wars.  Dark Horse's newest Kung-Fu action book is produced by, in my opinion, one of the strongest artist-writer teams that the company had on its Star Wars titles before Marvel took the license last year.  (The fact that Randy Stradley was editor of the entire line probably helped things.)  Stradley and Doug Wheatley made a very memorable pair on the post-Episode III Dark Times series, producing most of that book's issues together.  Seriously, it's some of the best Star Wars comics that you haven't read and could give some of Marvel's books a run for their money. But we're talking about Kung Fu right now, not Star Wars.  So how well does this pair do on an original work that doesn't involve lightsabers and spaceships?

Well, it’s a good product, but also a bit of a difficult one to get into.  The problem is that King Tiger character initially debuted in the pages of Dark Horse’s Ghost and had a recent backup in the last issue’s four-issue Blackout miniseries which were apparently a lead-in to this title.  (Apparently Stradley even wrote the character way back in 1993, though he fell into disuse between 1999 and last year.)  Unfortunately, King Tiger #1 opens somewhat in media res, written as though the reader is already familiar with the character and his past.  Not being acquainted with the character, it made my initial read of the story rather disorienting as the story instantly opens with Tiger’s new assistant, Milo, and Rikki, his girlfriend.  Beyond those basic clues, we’re given a disorienting introduction to these characters, particularly illustrated by a reference to some battle which occurred a day earlier of which we get minimal details.  In other words, we’re lacking context in our first meeting with the characters.  It’s as if this were a superhero movie and we walked in half an hour late, missing the opening and origins to get us oriented to the story.  Dark Horse might have done well to reprint the backups in Blackout as a “King Tiger #0″ to get new readers acquainted with things.

I’m actually getting a little ahead of things.  The cold open to the story involves a three goons perpetrating a human trafficking scheme on behalf of some obviously disturbing clients, and the goons suffering an unexpected and delightfully ironic fate as well.  Stradley was good at writing these little dark, unexpected twists in Dark Times, and I’m glad to see he still has a penchant for doing them here.  The larger purpose behind the kidnapping plot becomes a little obvious as it climaxes later in the issue–but let’s see where the next issue takes things.

The overall premise for the story isn’t bad, though.  The character of King Tiger himself seems to be part Doctor Strange, part Iron Fist: a mystic who’s also a martial arts expert.  He’s got the classic “wise Asian mentor” thing going on without being too much of a stereotype, and the brief glimpse of his mystic powers is presented in a fun way (he’s opened a portal to an alien ocean which is miraculously not flooding his study).  His assistant Milo is played with the appropriate balance of comic relief and lighthearted fun–but he’ll still be useful, not silly, as he knows his way around firearms and weaponry even as he’s still trying to learn King Tiger’s mystic arts.

It also needs to be said that Doug Wheatley’s art is freaking gorgeous as always.  It’s a testament to Dark Horse that they’ve been regularly employing him rather than letting him be snatched up by one of the bigger companies.  Wheatley’s art is highly detailed at an almost photorealistic level, like Greg Land’s but without the overt repetitive tracing.  He’s particularly talented at capturing a freeze-frame moment of action while still maintaining the illusion of movement without the use of speed lines.  On one early page, he captures a a young woman struggling during a kidnapping while money spills from her purse.  It’s a moment in time that looks real without looking static.

My one fear is that Wheatley’s level of detail requires a lot of lead time from him.  A number of Star Wars: Dark Times issues were notoriously late, with one particular set of issues requiring a fill-in artist mid-story in order to keep publication on track.  His end product is always worth the wait, but I hope Dark Horse required him to have his final produce ready before they solicited these issues.  Artist-driven delays will not help move this series on the sales charts.

Overall, this is a well-drawn book whose plot is unfortunately a little hard to get into thanks to Tiger and Milo’s introductions having appeared a year ago in another book.  However, it shows promise, and maybe it could fill the martial arts/mystical void in your life you didn’t know was there.

Rating: Three Roundhouse Kicks out of Five.

King Tiger #1 is set for release on August 12, 2015.  Thanks to Dark Horse Comics for the advance copy.

About Adam Frey (372 Articles)
Adam Frey is still trying to figure out what he wants to be when he grows up. In the meantime, he's an attorney and moonlights as an Emergency Medical Technician in Maryland. A comic reader for over 30 years, he's gradually introducing his daughter to the hobby, much to the chagrin of his wife and their bank account.
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