One year following its digital distribution via Mark Waid’s Thrillbent subscription site, writer-artist Chris Sheridan’s e-comic opus Motorcycle Samurai is now available in print format at a comic shop near you. Collecting its first story arc, Vol I: A Fiery Demise follows the adventures of the White Bolt–a katana-wielding, lone-wolf lady motorcyclist–as she forms unlikely alliances and trumps various adversaries along the way. Sheridan’s futuristic western series has pretty much been universally hailed as the new standard in digital comics, with its innovative use of dissolves and unique panel transitions, so it seems natural to question whether or not the material holds up on paper, without the cinematic flair.
The somewhat loose storyline (involving, in true western fashion, a wanted man, a bounty, a dead sheriff and a revolving cast of bad guys) seems incidental and an excuse to watch the White Bolt kick everyone’s ass (complete with an occasional fiery demise as promised), which is okay by me, especially if it’s all neatly tied up in a clever denouement. But the excellent writing immediately shines through in the dialogue; enigmatic, soliloquy-prone characters transition from flowery speeches to sassy retorts and back without missing a beat, adding even more of a Tarantino vibe to the Kill Bill-directed-by-Sergio- Leone aesthetic. The strong prose helps put Sheridan’s art in context, as it is sometimes difficult to tell from his drawings alone what his stoic, stone-faced characters’ intentions are.
In fact, the art is the one area that seems better served by the strategically stacked, floating panels of Motorcycle Samurai in its digital form. Subtleties in the expressions of Sheridan’s characters, I find, are a bit lost in translation without the animated effect of the digital frame-by-frame slideshow. Nonetheless, our masked anti-heroine wears subtle well, as it adds to her constant cool-under-pressure vibe, and the dramatic whimsy of Sheridan’s art still shines through the supporting cast of characters.
My first introduction to this comic was a physical sneak-preview issue I snagged on Free Comic Book Day; I was initially attracted to its cover, a Jamie Hewlett-esque portrait of the White Bolt flanked by rival tuff chicks the Hornets. I knew nothing about it prior to that, and only learned it existed as an online comic from a blurb on the back cover. Having enjoyed what I’d read, I decided to check out a digital issue on Comixology, and was immediately blown away by the way the staggered, appearing and disappearing frames brought the story to life. I wouldn’t exactly say that these slick transitions are sorely missed in print, but I can’t deny that they elevate the delivery of the narrative, not to mention the striking visuals that sent tumbleweeds and Morricone scores whistling through my brain as I read (watched?). Still, Motorcycle Samurai in print form is still successful in conveying the gritty, more-fun- than-Mad-Max spirit of its previous incarnation.