Dark Horse Comics has long been the home of Stan Sakai’s classic series Usagi Yojimbo, but with Stan and his wife Sharon falling on a bit of hard times over the last few months, the publisher has made plans to give back to one of comic’s greatest creators.
Out on July 23, 2014, The Sakai Project brings together some of comics greatest creators to pay honor to Sakai. The line-up of creators is quite vast, but has to be seen to be believed.
I took a break from reading Usagi Yojimbo for some time, having other series that I wanted to focus on; however, I began to miss the superb swordplay of the samurai without a master. Recently I was able to cover the 27th and latest volume from Stan Sakai for Geeks of Doom, and I was quickly reminded of why Miyamoto Usagi is such a thrilling and brilliant character. Engrossed once again within the world of the wandering Ronin, Usagi Yojimbo: A Town Called Hell introduces new allies and reveals old enemies while producing what every other volume has equally been known for: fun yet thought-provoking material.
In “A Town Called Hell,” Usagi encounters a village ransacked by two warring gangs. The citizens have scattered, many leaving with all of their belongings strapped to their backs, as their homes aren’t even safe anymore. As Usagi immerses himself within the drama of both factions, he quickly learns that trusting power-hungry individuals will always come with a price; and as he continues on his wandering journey throughout other short stories in this collection, it would seem an impossibility to escape Hell.
Well, that’s it. Zombies have officially taken over. First that Walking Dead Stuff, then the Marvel Zombies. Before I knew it they were skulking about the bridge of the USS Enterprise and then that Blackest Night thing, but if they can make it all the way into the pages of Usagi Yojimbo then where else is there to go? Eightball?
Seriously, though, for better or for worse, in spite of the kick-ass cover, the living dead have not infected Stan Sakai‘s Talking-Animals/Feudal-Era-Japan, his samurai rabbit heroes’ morals do not get tested when he has to decide to hack off the head of a bitten loved one; in fact, it takes up a relatively small portion of this volume. As anyone who’s been following this book for years will tell you, anything goes here. Usagi Yojimbo Volume 26 has zombies, hidden fortresses, assassination plots, dudes getting stabbed to death, water spirits, former allys seeking vengece, and an evil wizard that reminded me of a Skeksie from the Dark Crystal. So, yeah, it’s not just ‘Usagi Fights The Zombies’ here. But, by the way, it is there. And it’s awesome.
Last month, in my review of Usagi Yojimbo #143, I ended by saying that I predict that the next issue would have plenty of action. If I knew then what I know now I would have replaced ‘action’ with ‘violence.’ Usagi Yojimbo #144 is a violent, violent comic.
In the last issue, the ronin rabbit came into a new town and befriended Mitsui, an old, hardworking soy sauce brewer whose warehouse was being threatened by the local competition. Well, surprise, the thugs have returned in this issue. One of Mitusis’ staff is killed and Usagi sets out with an ineffectual sheriff to arrest the men responsible. They resist arrest. Swords are unsheathed.
For going on 25 years Stan Sakai‘s Usagi Yojimbo has been taking its anthropomorphized rabbit Samurai protagonist on adventure after adventure through Edo-era Japan while maintaining a steady rhythm of excellence in both storytelling and cartooning. Usagi Yojimbo #143 is no exception.
We find our hero in a new town and quickly embroidered in a new exploit defending the poor and defenseless against the powerful and bullying. It’s pretty standard fare for many samurai stories, or westerns for that matter. Sakai, of course, makes it worth our while with his richly detailed recreation of feudal Japan. When he sets the plot aside for a number of pages to take us on tour of a soy sauce brewery, showing us the process from soy bean to fermentation, it’s not tangential, it’s part of the fun.