INTO THE NEXT STAGE: The Confusing ‘Kingsway West’ Comic Book


My first introduction to the work of Greg Pak wasn’t an encouraging one when his short “Fighting Grandpa” screened at the 1998 “Chili Visions.” It was about his Korean grandparents with a particular focus on trying to understand his grandfather. Which he never quite did.

In a Q&A that followed, Pak (who’s half white) tried to rationalize why it was just as well that he never accomplished the goal he set when embarking upon his film. Ugh. I felt resentment at having wasted my time. My recollection was that it ran over an hour.

Looking it up now, I was shocked to learn it was a mere 21 minutes. OK, it just seemed over an hour long.

A couple years later, Pak and I were on a panel discussion, probably at his alma mater Yale, discussing Asian American portrayals. One student said she was offended at something I said, and Pak agreed, adding she had the right to be. God give me strength. He did ask me out to lunch, and we continued on as if it had never happened.

Since then, Pak’s gotten quite steady work as a comic book writer, including books featuring the Hulk and Superman, but I never picked up any of them. Probably because the artwork wasn’t enticing enough (a common problem today with the substandard definition of what passes for art) or I wasn’t interested in the latest reboot from either Marvel or DC.

Greg Pak

Greg Pak

But I finally picked up his four-issue mini-series “Kingsway West” (published by independent Dark Horse Comics) because its protagonist was a Chinese American in the Old West with a love interest, and the artwork (by Mirko Colak) was passable.

Issue #1: It’s 1861, Northern California, where a 13-year war between the Chinese and Mexicans over Red Gold has just ended. Kingsway Law is confronted by at least four Chinese bounty hunters eager to claim the $1,000 on his head for “desertion, treason, conspiring with freelanders, and murder.”

Law apparently shoots three times (well, the triggerman is not seen in the panel, but it’s followed by him standing with at least two bodies on the ground) then shoots again. But when we get an aerial view, there are only two bounty hunters dead (where are the other two?) and Law collapses with blood coming out of his upper body. So apparently he was shot after all. Very confusing.

Cover of the first issue of “Kingsway West” by Greg Pak.

Cover of the first issue of “Kingsway West” by Greg Pak.

He wakes up 13 hours later to find that a Mexican woman named Sonia’s nursed him back to health. We only see three pages between them before we’re whisked five years into the future, where we eventually learn he married her. But Chinese soldiers burn down their house and Sonia’s gone. In the meantime, Law meets Ah Toy, a Chinese woman accompanied by a doglike-sniffing mini-dragon and alien-looking horse.

This was a confusing, jarring introduction because I had to keep flipping back and forth between the pages to understand who was on what side and what they were fighting over. The Chinese soldiers all uh… “looked alike,” and I couldn’t determine who I was supposed to be rooting for. And both Sonia and Ah Toy looked similar. Apparently, this takes place on an alternate world or reality.

On the first page, the narrator explains Red Gold as “a substance that powered ‘extramundial’ phenomena otherwise unexplainable by science.” I tried looking up “extramundial” online and Google wasn’t much help.

Annoying too is the pattern of people being shot out of nowhere with cackles of energy also suddenly appearing. And how are we supposed to care about Kingsway’s search for Sonia if we only saw her for three pages?

Issue #2: In four pages of flashbacks with Sonia, we learn Kingsway once slaughtered a Mexican priest and an entire church after Mexicans killed 100 Chinese babies at an orphanage. Sonia herself killed Chinese, but they’re trying to leave the killing behind them, and Kingsway’s vowed to stop being “a monster.”

In the present day, Ah Toy tells Kingsway that he has a reputation for helping anyone in danger as he went against the Chinese queen when she tried to rob and imprison freelanders like her — those unaffiliated with any side.

Enter: troops from the United States of New York who’ve implanted people with wings — including Strode, a black woman — to do their bidding. An engineer questions a Chinese soldier whose entire right side of his face is mush. Yet he manages to stand and suddenly, it looks like he’s only had his eye blown out. This from the inconsistent artist who loves his work so much he actually signs two ordinary pages here (unheard of; that’s usually reserved for the cover).

During a confrontation with Kingsway and Ah Toy, someone’s suddenly shot three times from behind by — get this — about a dozen soldiers who, apparently, no one heard coming. Again, a very tiresome ploy.

Issue #3: Ah Toy brings Kingsley back to her mining village, next to a Red Gold mine.