In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #149

Flawless. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: The title character is doing battle with two men, with a pair of men falling backward from his blows, and another already at his feet. Life is not easy for Miyamoto Usagi, especially as a ronin, yet his skills look to be his saving grace yet again. This image by series creator Stan Sakai brilliantly captures the action of the ronin and his assailants, plus the blowing leaves of the plants behind them create a visual tumult that add energy to the scene. The coloring is also strong from Tom Luth, creating excellent coloring in all the characters to show their individuality with their clothes, yet allowing Usagi to shine with his brighter garb. Also nicely done all are the stones at the bottom of the illustration, which readers should be paying more attention to. This image is much more brighter than the image accompanying this review, as I had to scan the image on my own. Overall grade: A+ 

The story: “The Distant Mountain” is a sad and strong tale by Stan Sakai. The issue opens innocently enough, with the book’s star leaving a pleasant meal at a restaurant and continuing on his way before having to move aside to allow a huge procession of samurai. The men are part of Lord Akagawa’s clan and they are carrying a palanquin, which must be carrying some high ranking official. They are going in the same direction as Usagi, so he follows them from a distance. As he goes along he muses over something he remembers. “I had heard of Lord Akagawa during my time in the Geishu court. It was said he is very wealthy, but is a most despicable person.” Unfortunately, Usagi adds, “At least I won’t have to worry about bandits attacking a group this size.” That’s right when three times the number of Akagawa’s men come running out of the foliage to attack. Naturally our hero feels for the underdogs and assists them, bringing him to the attention of the men’s leader Yoshi. Usagi learns what the men are bearing and it’s surprising. My reaction to what was within mirrored Usagi’s. The pair share a bond from this point on and things come to an exciting head. The final five pages were bittersweet and impossible not to hear one character speak in the voice of actor James Hong. However, Sakai takes some of the edge off the tale, thankfully, with the final three panels showing Usagi’s summation of the affair. It’s the sign of a skilled writer who can weave action, honor, anger, and humor through a complete story in only 24 pages. Overall grade: A+ 

The art: It’s not often one encounters a comic book where an army of men fights another army and the setting is fully drawn in every panel. Often the background is omitted so readers can focus on the characters’ action, but Stan Sakai doesn’t go the easy way out. He creates lavish images on every page that swallows a reader in the environment and the time period, making Usagi Yojimbo a constant visual feast. The opening page is cinematic as a distant shot of the town and hero moves in close to better show the protagonist. The third panel shows the travel the character has begun, with a close-up of a character’s foot to further emphasize movement. The last panel on the page shows Usagi and the citizens responding to the call to move aside. And with the turn of a page, readers encounter the entourage moving by, crossing over in a partial double-paged splash. It’s an epic moment and demands the extension of space. As Usagi follows them out, the countryside is shown and it’s magnificent. However, when the battle begins it’s epic on a different scale. No one draws such detailed action in comic books (Okay, maybe a co-hort of Sakai’s who does this book about a wanderer). The intensity on the characters’ faces, villains and heroes, is amazing. When a character is struck down by a blade the arched bodies and horror on their faces is a match for any similar action of film. Yoshi is a terrific character whose stoic nature equals his honor, though he does have a momentary panel of joy that shows the soul within him. The character that appears on 20 is exactly as I expected him to look. His gesticulations in the final panel on that page are so telling of his nature. Every page of this book is joy to behold. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Stan Sakai is also the letterer of this book. He creates dialogue, yells, cries of death, and sounds. His style is strong, working for both serious and lighter moments, with the final words from the fallen being soul wrenching. Overall grade: A+

The final line: A fantastic self-contained story that shows the power of the title character and those around him. Flawless. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+ 

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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