Five years ago, the secret government program that turned mental-patient Duncan into a triple-threat weapon in the War on Terror was shut down following a mysterious incident ominously referred to as “San Cristobal.” Like the other “triplets” in the defunct program, Duncan shares his mind and body with three distinct (paranoid, antsy, and well-armed) personalities: in his case, a cowboy, a ninja, and a Viking. Rather than try to “cure” subjects by gradually integrating their diverse personalities into their core selves, Dr. Ghislain and his fellow neurobehavioral psychiatrists encouraged cooperation among each of their patients’ distinct personalities and trained them in areas fitting their natures. The result was meant to be a small force of multi-talented super-soldiers the government could control. But that last part didn’t so much work out the way they planned. And now they need Duncan and his special brand of crazy to help stop one of their own.
The title of this humor-fueled action series may sound a little cheezy at first, but the story hits the ground running and quickly adds a layer of coolness and self-aware snark to the cheese.
Oddball Duncan is a fun character as he juggles his multiple voices. His cowboy nature loves the ladies, the ninja in him feels persecuted by their perpetual dearth of Wellbutrin, and the Viking worries the women-folk won’t appreciate his regular animal sacrifices to the gods. Duncan is lucky, however, in that all three of his additional selves share a grounding in the warrior tradition, identify with and accept one another, and generally operate with one mind (though the violence-prone trio occasionally overrides his slightly more moderate core self). Not all the triplets are so psychologically consistent, however. The odd chef — and, even funnier, Quaker — personality makes the whole “government assassin” model more colorful and nuanced than its federally bankrolled creators would probably have preferred.
Combining personality-specific headshots (for instance, cowboy-hatted, ninja-cowled, and Viking-helmeted Duncans) with individually-designed speech bubbles incorporating related symbols (such as a Colt revolver, a ninja sword, and a battle ax, respectively) makes for easier distinction between a single character’s multiple interior perspectives. At the same time, limited use of thematic color tones retains enough white space to keep the inky, scribbly, moody art readable.
Those visual cues and that white space become increasingly important as the simultaneous introduction of a handful of new triplets begins to sap the idea of some of its novelty and punch. A few personalities feel repetitious, others like random grabs for something “different.” And it’s not always clear to whom new identities belong when their in-personality headshots are so different from their outward selves and so shrouded in ink that face shape and even gender can be difficult to ascertain. And while the kinetic art usually boosts the high-energy action, some panels are so scribbly and spare that they look more like storyboard images than finals.
A little too much of a good thing, this series, but despite its vague conflicts, loose ends, and logical and visual inconsistencies, it’s nevertheless an entertaining, funny, action-packed escape. If you think about it too hard, it starts to fall apart, but if you just take it for the flashy, tongue-in-cheek adventure it is, you’ll be left smiling and wondering what happens next. (I’m still trying to decide whether or not the heavily X-Men-like echoes at the end are part of the joke. I guess I’ll have to read Volume 2 to find out!)
This first trade paperback collects issues #1-5 of the series and includes the original pitch, several alternate and guest covers, and a few pages of an early draft of the script.
Consistently strong language, violence, misuse of prescription drugs (for example, as currency in an amusing poker game amongst Bellevue residents), suggestive themes, and blunt references to sex (in addition to his Professor X-like insights, Dr. Ghislain shares some traits with Hugh Heffner, James Bond, and Tony Stark) set this title safely in the adult arena.
Cowboy Ninja Viking, vol. 1
by A. J. Lieberman
Art by Riley Rossmo
Publisher Age Rating: MR (18+)