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Rat Trap

  Way of the Rat: The Walls of Zhumar

 

Chuck Dixon, Jeff Johnson

CrossGen, 2003

Rating: 3.0

 

 

Posted: May 5, 2003

 By Steve Wallace

From the first page of this ongoing series' initial collection, the influences of The Way of the Rat's creators are immediately apparent. There are martial arts flicks (the book has more flying fists, feet, and bodies than a pre-teen gymnastics class), Chinese mythologies (a Hell of Dragons and a talking monkey figure prominently), Asian history (A conquering horde of barbaric Huns) and even lots of stage sets lifted from old samurai films. But the book leans heaviest upon early Jackie Chan movies; the bumbling, acrobatic protagonist (a thief named Boon Sai Hong, aka the Jade Rat) and his two equally bumbling mentors are dead ringers for the movie star and his legendary sidekicks Yuen Bao and Sammo Hung. (Given that the title has been optioned by Dreamworks for a feature film, it'll be interesting to see how a finished film version handles the similarities.)

The plot, involving magical artifacts, a city under siege and multiple conspiracies, is well-imagined, fast-paced and entertaining, but the execution leans a bit too heavily on the title's cinematic roots. Too often, we feel artist Jeff Johnson struggling to capture the rapid-fire and incredibly athletic movements that make Chan's movies so popular. By attempting a direct translation of every move of the action, he winds up distorting the temporal continuity of the work, and too many of his fight scenes play in slow motion.

While we're discussing Johnson's timing miscues, let's not forget writer Chuck Dixon's gaffes. The action of the series is often inter-cut between different storylines to increase dramatic tension, but the action seldom appears to be occurring simultaneously. Events involving the protracted siege of the city, for instance, get thrown in alongside with a chase scene that seems to never end. Is Hong supposed to have been running from the same pursuers for months on end without rest, food or shelter?

There's a lot the team does right, however, starting with a breezy, Saturday matinee tone that contrasts nicely with the dense and foreboding feel of CrossGen's The Path, which takes place on the same world. Faceless goons, a beautiful but deadly princess, a harsh winter siege that comes complete with a crazy Russian and his anachronistic cannon, and a selfish and dangerous Fu Manchu-like city ruler spark plenty of interest. Inconsistencies aside, if light-hearted martial-arts amusement is your thing, there's plenty of good stuff in Way of the Rat to keep you occupied for an afternoon.

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