In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #2

A supernatural threat is revealed, but will Usagi be able to stop it?

The cover: A beautiful female puppet from the Bunraku looks blankly to the right, the epitome of innocence. Then why is Usagi approaching from behind with his sword drawn, looking at her in anger? This is  suggestive cover by Stan Sakai and colored by Tom Luth that has an odd tone, but once the issue is completed the reader will understand the ronin’s ire. The puppet’s clothing and hair are very ornate and beautifully colored. Overall grade: A

The story: It’s late at night and at an izakaya (I fully admit to having to look this word up because I didn’t like using tavern) is packed. A patron leaves early because he’s been hired to escort a shipment of goods to the southern port and doesn’t want to be late in the morning. As this samurai sword for hire makes his way down the cold, moonless street, the man hears scuttling behind him. He draws his sword as he’s assaulted by the unthinkable. As if this scene wasn’t bizarre enough, a character appears on 8 to do something startling. Stan Sakai then moves to the next morning where Usagi and Sasuke find something in the street and make some determinations on this discovery. The pair then return to a setting from the first issue where Usagi sees something “impossible” on 15. With this realization, Sasuke makes a statement on 17 that provokes a strong response from Usagi. I really like that Sasuke takes the ronin to task, as I’ve not seen this done to the title character before. I enjoyed watching this pair as they were essentially on stake out duty and then stepped into a location they should not have entered. The discovery on 22 is great — I did not see that coming! The book ends with a cliffhanger for the twosome to take a more active role in the antagonist’s activities. In addition to Usagi being put on the spot, which was neat, Usagi is following another character’s lead. With exception to Inspection Ishida, I can’t recall the character doing this. I like seeing him in this position. It’s neat to see Sakai taking his character out of his comfort level. Overall grade: A 

The art: Stan Sakai is also the artist of his tale. The first page opens with a cinematic pull in to the village, entering the packed izakaya. The samurai is teased in the final panel on this page before becoming the focus on the second page. I love Hasu’s jovial face and how the samurai looks at him with friendly malice. Once outside, the samurai shows the reader how cold he is by his posture in the third and fourth panels on the third page. The stalker of the samurai is teased perfectly, with an arm or feet, before leading to the freakish surprise on 6. I like the number of baddies on the pages that follow with their numbers very clearly made a factor in this conflict to the reader. If this wasn’t bizarre enough, everything on 8 is just creepy. The character in green on 12 will be make readers’ spider-sense tingle because of the previous pages. It’s not often that Usagi’s eyes go wide, but when they do here the reader knows that the ronin has encountered something troubling. Even before Usagi makes a statement at the end of 15, the visuals before it have clearly communicated to the reader what’s occurred — Usagi’s thoughts only confirm this realization. I love Sasuke’s calm demeanor on 16 and 17, which is completely opposed to Usagi’s emotional responses. The action on 21 is terrific. Once again, I’ve not seen something like his before in the history of this series and it’s accomplished simply, but Usagi’s reaction mirrors that of the reader. The final panel on 23 is the perfect lead-in to the last page, with the characters rushing to the right. The last panel of the book is a great visual cliffhanger, leaving the reader wondering how the horrific action can possibly be stopped. Overall grade: A

The colors: Take a gander at the colors on the first two pages by Tom Luth. The village is dark, but no so much so that the artwork is obliterated. The interior of the izakaya is dimly lit, reinforcing the time this part of the story takes pace. Even the laughter in the establishment is muted yellows. On the streets, the samurai’s green and yellow clothing has him stand out against all the browns. Notice how bright the colors go in the daytime, with an excellent and varied collection of clothes on 9. The beautiful blue sky serves to create warmth as well. In the daylight the samurai from the opening stands out for the color of his clothing. When Sasuke and Usagi have their conversation on 16 and 17, notice how Luth uses tan window covers to allow the characters to stand out against the brown structures — very smart. The light source on 21 is wonderful, with the background’s colors in the second panel showing how it grows in strength. The brightest color on the last page is Usagi’s exclamation point, giving his reaction a lot of strength. It’s neat to see Usagi in color and I’m glad Luth is providing the colors. Overall grade: A

The letters: Also done by Stan Sakai are the book’s letters which include the story title, sounds, dialogue, yells, and exclamation points and question marks for nonverbal responses. The story’s title is twice as tall as the Part Two off to its right, making the title of this tale powerful. I like when characters have revelations that lead to some of their dialogue growing in strength. One example of this can be found in the last panel on 15 as Usagi’s discovery grows in power with each word. This allows the reader to put the emphasis of his speech, or thoughts in this case, on the words correctly. This is a smart way by Sakai to have every reader hear these words the same way. I’ve always loved the exclamation points and questions marks what characters exclaim. They’re not verbal, but any reader would recognize what the character feels with these responses. Overall grade: A

The final line: A supernatural threat is revealed, but will Usagi be able to stop it? That’s the question of this issue. I love having Usagi deal with otherworldly threats, which haven’t been used that often. They are thrilling to read. I like how Sasuke seems more confident in this threat than the title character, placing Usagi in a welcome weak position for once. The visuals are outstanding and the colors, new to this series at this publisher, add to the artwork considerably. I can’t yank on your strings anymore to get your attention — you need to pick up this series! Overall grade: A

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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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