In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #154

Beautiful and exciting in every possible way. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: Usagi Yojimbo is in a puzzling situation on this cover by Stan Sakai and Tom Luth. Usagi craddles the wounded body of a female komori ninja while a trio of her companions circle above them, each trying to deliver a killing blow to the grounded pair. Why would Usagi help one of these killers? Why are the fearsome flying foes attempting to kill them? There’s only one way to find out and that’s to buy this issue! This is a super image that gives the reader a basic idea of what’s to come within, but gives nothing away. The Komori are one of Sakai’s best looking foes and having a slew of them always spells trouble. Luth does a super job on the colors with that beautiful blue sky being a perfect backdrop to have the blacks of the ninjas pop out. Overall grade: A

The story: “Kazehime” is a complete story from Stan Sakai that starts with a seven page prologue. A terrible storm has broken out and the title character is trying to locate a pilgrim’s temple for shelter. An explosion of thunder in the sky precedes a downpour, but luckily he’s found the temple. Before he can enter a figure falls from the sky: a wounded komori ninja. She’s hurt badly and feverish. Usagi has had several run-ins with the komori but he can’t leave her outside to die. As he attempts to lift her, the fallen ninja’s blade barely touches Usagi’s mino and it’s slashed: even unconscious, the woman is dangerous. Though his arm is still mending from being broken, Usagi carries her into the temple. The woman wakes three days later and things are revealed. She is very hostile, as her kind tend to be, but because of his kindness, she owes a debt to the ronin. “Three months later…” begins the main story and it has a character from a recent story return. The conversation that Usagi has with this individual on Pages 10 – 13 is terrific. If Sakai had wanted to have the entire issue focus on this pair talking at a table I would have been more than happy, but Usagi dooms himself with his words in the final panel on 13. Usagi’s reaction on 15 is fantastic, as is those around him. Page 15 ends with a dramatic visual. Given the prologue, it’s not too surprising who’s responsible, but things are not as cut (no pun intended) and dry as thought. The battle is vicious. It’s startling how the issue ends, with Sakai giving a good emotional punch. Of the final two pages, Usagi says only three words, leaving the reader to ponder what he’s thinking. The visuals provide a strong clue, but Sakai rightly lets the reader think about the conclusion of this issue and how such a resolution will weigh on the title character. That’s the sign of a great story: an experience that will have the reader thinking long after about life, death, and what a debt means. All in 24 page. Impressive. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: One knows that good art is being looked upon when something terrible, such as a storm, is beautiful to look upon. The first page of this issue illustrated by Stan Sakai has two panels that show such horrific weather. The first panel, which encompasses two-thirds of the page, contains rain, lighting, wind, and some amazing cloud work. Usagi is also in the panel, but he’s very small, showing readers the immensity of the gale. The second panel shows Usagi in profile gazing upwards at the fury, but to get to the protagonist the reader must first look upon the clouds, rain, and wind blown forest. Having Usagi’s clothes covered in rain also tells the reader that he’s not a super hero, the elements do effect him. The forest where the temple is hidden has some wonderful cross-hatching work, and showing his trek from several different angles on Page 2 makes him seem so small. The explosion of lightning in the first panel is terrific; this is type of black and white work that Frank Miller excelled at on Sin City, but Sakai shows himself to be equally adept. The arrival of the komori is like a black tattered slash against the setting, showing a dramatic difference between the woman and the ronin. Her range of emotions is impressive, from when she awakens to her final scenes in the issue, with her close up on 22 beautiful: so much drama in just that second panel! In addition to making the komori look good, Sakai also does a sensational job in populating his settings with a wide variety of characters, and the location that Usagi goes to on 9 is amazing. The most hilarious panel occurs at the beginning of Page 13: this is a side of Usagi rarely shown and it is completely fitting and wonderful. The battle scene is also amazing, from it’s startling beginning on 16 (What a spectacular point of view shot on 16) and ending with terrific one-on-one fight. The final two pages are beautiful on several levels because Usagi says so little and the reader has to decide, based on the images, what he’s thinking from this climax. The final three panels with him are incredible. I love that Sakai the Writer is confident enough with Sakai the Artist to let the imagery finish the story. This makes for a superb ending. Overall grade: A+

The letters: A scene setting, dialogue, sounds, punctuation marks for utterances, the story’s title, yells, screams, and a death rattle are brought to life by Stan Sakai. The lettering by Sakai is legendary, and this issue shows why he’s worthy of such praise. The explosion of thunder on 3 is beautiful, the sounds of Kazehime falling are excellent, and the bolded words in a character’s speech tell the reader where to hear the emphasis as he or she speaks. And look in the fourth panel on this page to see the question mark and exclamation point combined to give Usagi a nonverbal utterance: it’s just gorgeous. The exclamation from Kazehime on 5 perfectly captures her regaining consciousness. The title reveal on 8 is big, bold, and explosive. 17 has an unfortunate man expressing an iconic skull as he dies. Who knew emojis were around in sixteenth century Japan? Sakai is amazing. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: A fantastic issue which will please long time readers and provide an excellent introduction to the ronin. Beautiful and exciting in every possible way. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

To find out more about Usagi Yojimbo’s previous adventures go to http://darkhorse.com

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer’s Guide for several years with “It’s Bound to Happen!” and he’s reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He’s taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.

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