Way of the Rat:
The Walls of Zhumar

by Chuck Dixon, Jeff Johnson
(CrossGen, 2003)

Fans of Honk Kong action movies should find Way of the Rat a special treat, although anyone who enjoys fast-paced action-filled stories will enjoy it, too. Young Boon Sai Hong, a member of a shadowy Thieves Guild, doesn't find what he was sent to take so steals a ring and a book instead. Both are items of great power, although he doesn't realize this 'til later.

Inadvertently, he gains a mentor in the form of a talking monkey who helps Boon throughout the story. Though Boon is disturbed to discover a talking monkey tagging along, he quickly realizes he needs all the help he can get no matter where from. There are others also aware of the powerful artifacts who wish to possess them -- some with honorable intentions, others less so. The greedy lord of the city, the leader of a barbarian horde intent on conquest and the daughter of the emperor are all on a desperate race to aquire the ring and book.

The ring is the Ring of Staffs and gives its wielder mastery beyond all others of the martial arts of sticks or staves. The book (actually a scroll) is the Book of the Hell of the Hungry Dragons and its page is a gateway to Hell itself.

There are other rings and other artifacts but to tell more would spoil the enjoyment of the story. Suffice to say that Boon soon finds he is in for far more than he ever bargained for when every hand and blade is raised against him to obtain the items he stole. And though he begins the story as a small-time thief, circumstances reveal a heart capable of compassion and honor. Possession of the ring and book begin to change him as awareness of the burden he carries begins to sink in -- and not all of it is to his liking.

The artwork is particularly well done and many pages display martial arts moves that could be used to learn actual techniques if one were so inclined. Unlike many comics, the panels, while active, are never so busy as to be confusing. This is particularly pleasing in my opinion as it makes Way of the Rat very newbie-friendly for someone who has never read a graphic novel or comic before. The inking is clean as is the coloring and lettering.

Also interesting are the occasional Chinese proverbs that begin each chapter. CrossGen comics tend to display a very polished look and this book is no exception. For someone who would like a story that diverges from typical superhero fare with a tight, fast-paced story, Way of the Rat is a fine introduction to a new series that's sure to be around for years to come.

- Rambles
written by Dana Fletcher
published 5 July 2003

Buy it from Amazon.com.