cover image WAY OF THE RAT: The Walls of Zhumar

WAY OF THE RAT: The Walls of Zhumar

Chuck Dixon, . . CrossGen, $15.95 (160pp) ISBN 978-1-931484-51-0

CrossGen now enters the territory of martial arts comics, in particular the kind of historical kung fu slapstick popularized by Jackie Chan. This is, first of all, an exceptionally well-drawn comic, even by CrossGen's standards, full of wonderfully detailed exotic panoramas and exciting stop-motion combat scenes. The setting is a version of ancient China, where the frontier fortress city of Zhumar is in the grip of winter and besieged by a barbarian horde led by the great Bhuto Khan. Zhumar's commander, the snaky Judge X'ain, intends to betray the city by giving Bhuto several magical artifacts. But his plans go astray when the artifacts are stolen by a young thief, Boon Sai Hong, the Jade Rat. Putting on the magical Ring of Staffs, Boon becomes a master of that weapon. Unfortunately, having the magical loot also makes him a target for the judge's assassins and for members of the incensed thieves' guild. Life inside Zhumar becomes quite hectic for Boon, while Bhuto tries to batter down the city walls to get at him. Boon is a likable little guy who is simultaneously given huge challenges and power; he has to learn quickly. In combat scenes, as he hangs suspended in mid-air, his expression shows he can't quite believe what he's doing. Yet he begins to control his new abilities and use them intelligently. In short, he can be both heroic and amusing. Dixon is an old hand at mixing moods like this, and the result is an entertaining genre piece. (June)