Just take a glance at Cow Boy, Archaia's new hardcover graphic novel from writer Nate Cosby and artist Chris Eliopoulos, and you might quickly write it off as "cute." And, to be fair, an all ages story about a 10-year-old boy with what may or may not be a real gun made up to look like a toy horse hunting bounties in the old West is cute. But there's a lot more to this work than meets the eye. The story has a maturity to it, not in that it's loaded up with "mature" comics fodder like explicit violence and sex, but in its emotion. Indeed, the title character has lived a lifetime in his 10 short years.Speaking with Chris Sims and me on the War Rocket Ajax podcast a few weeks ago, Cosby described Cow Boy as "Deadwood for kids." Thematically, that's a pretty good comparison. Both stories take a hard look at the price people pay for choosing to be moral, and have a pretty strong underlying sense of melancholy as a result.

But where Deadwood took a broad view of how a community comes together, Cow Boy stays laser-focused on its 10-year-old protagonist, Boyd, who may just be the last bastion of good in a family full of scoundrels and thieves. The notion that a story about a kid who's only been alive for a decade could have flashbacks seems kind of ridiculous, but Cosby and Eliopoulos don't just pull them off here, they make them hit hard.

All that history is peppered throughout the book. In the present, Boyd makes it pretty doggone clear he'll do whatever he has to so that some people who are very close to him come to justice. How's he do that? Oh, you know, shoot up some bars, light some buildings on fire, use an old man as a human shield, et cetera.

The action sequences are a lot of fun, and do a lot to balance out Cow Boy's sad moments. Eliopoulos does a terrific job of creating expressive characters who convey multiple layers of surprise. Yes, there's someone shooting at them or making demands of them, and yes, that person is a little boy.

Although Boyd's on a grown-up mission, Cow Boy offers up reminders here and there that he's still a kid and still learning that actions have consequences that he's too young to anticipate. In chapter three, Boyd intervenes to stop a group of thugs from taunting a runaway slave hiding in a barn. Boyd runs the mob off, but the slave tells Boyd that fighting those men only made them madder and put him at greater risk of being harmed.

The scene is the closest Cow Boy comes to being heavy-handed, but Cosby keeps the dialogue crisp and doesn't end with a cheesy "I learned a lesson" moment. It ends quietly, and Boyd's realization of his mistake is all there, in the art.

Four of Cow Boy's five chapters are up to read for free online, but I'd definitely recommend grabbing up the 96-page hardcover, which is on sale now at finer comics shops and bookstores. Eliopoulos' art looks great in print, and the fifth chapter, while the shortest, is the most poignant. Additionally, only the print edition comes with the four between-chapter interludes; two-to-three-page comics ranging from farce (Roger Langridge's "The Man with No Underpants" and Mike Maihack's "A Penguin Never Misses") to romance (Colleen Coover's "Yellow Rose and Black Billy") to sci-fi action (Brian Clevinger, Scott Wegener and Mitch Gerads' "The Wireless West"). None of these breaks directly continue Boyd's larger story, but they're great palate cleansers as you move between chapters of Cow Boy.

Clearly, Cosby and Eliopoulos intend to do more with their pint-sized bounty hunter. This volume ends with his work unfinished and at least one major character who is discussed at length unseen. When volume two rolls around, I'll saddle up.

Below are the first 10 pages of Cow Boy, courtesy of Archaia:

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