Storytellers: Chuck Dixon, Jeff Johnson
Artists: Jeff Johnson, Tom Ryder, Chris Garcia
I TUMBLED OUT ONTO THE TILES soaked in sweat, smelling of fear and death, and clawed my way upright as explosions rocked the walls. I intended to be somewhere else. Sure, I was bedazzled by the opening pages in WAY OF THE RAT by storytellers Chuck Dixon and Jeff Johnson, showing a panoramic birds-eye view of frontier city Zhumar in the far west of an ancient empire, with its tiled roofs and heavy citadel squatting in the center like a giant toad or a dragon nestled on its heap of golden treasure, including at this moment a magic scroll, a ring of power, and a phoenix heart in the possession of a thief, or thieves, more than one at first, while two frightening characters on opposite sides of the wall want to have those items, one inside in charge of all the police and soldiers looking for one Boon Sai Hong, the Jade Rat, and the other on the outside with a giant cannon on a distant summit spewing five-hundred-weight stones to batter down the walls to locate the same guilty lad in possession of a new ring that makes him an invincible master of staffs, though not too bright, all rendered exquisitely in theme and pace, in detail and color (enhanced by inker Tom Ryder and colorist Chris Garcia) so the enchanting scenes shudder into life and demand rapt attention, sledging me through the first six issues down a snowy mountainside leaping crevices and bars straight into the clutches of the enemy.
“This is where fate has brought you, Boon Sai Hong,“ says the mysterious warrior woman dressed all in white, poised at his side in one splendid moment backed into a corner.
Sure. I believe it. But I also know it was the monkey that brought me here; he is the reason I am not somewhere else. This smart monkey pal boosts the hero to stay strong, tells him to keep the scroll, I do not want the scroll, keep the scroll, and more instructions and advice spoken plainly, since this is a magical monkey that talks. Eventually one listens, and for a moment I believe I was divinely intended to be here all along with the wayward rat as a manner of fate.
I tracked this story from a stray number in the middle of the 24-issue run, from 2002: a lone ghost story with a flair of humor and stunning artwork large on the page that made me look for the rest. Finally able to re-start at the beginning, I came up for a gulp of fresh air to let you know we are all fine. Managed to survive. Met a friend. Still not sure how far to trust conversing with a magic monkey. Ready to find out.