In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #3

This is an absolutely satisfying conclusion to this saga.

The cover: Usagi swings his blade to beat back some of the demonic puppets, but their numbers are overwhelming him. Some have swords and cleavers, while others use their unnaturally sharp teeth to rend his flesh. In the background Sasuke uses his magical abilities to help his friend, but he too is being attacked by a wave of the small terrors. I love the insanity of this cover, with there seeming to be nothing but a miniature murderer wherever the reader looks. The colors for the creatures’ clothes has them standing out, as do the vivid blues on Usagi. What a wonderful cover that rightfully shows the hell the heroes will encounter. Outstanding job from Stan Sakai and Tom Luth. Overall grade: A+

The story: This could be argued as the most dramatic opening in the history of this series. Takagi, the puppeteer is draining the life force from a man and cackling. Usagi and Sasuke come upon this murderer after he has finished feeding. Accompanied by the female puppet, Takagi proclaims, “Your hunting days will be over, Sasuke!” Puppets suddenly emerge from all corners of the back alley with Usagi battling these mini-monsters and Sasuke confronting Takagi. If creepy puppets have ever bothered you, this issue will certainly increase your fear. Stan Sakai has Sasuke go after Takagi who runs off, leaving Usagi to battle the overwhelming mob of puppets. The police arrive to find Usagi and the puppets and things don’t go well for them. Page 10 demonstrates a surprising skill for a character and reinforcements make his battle against the puppeteer difficult. Just as it seems all is lost, someone arrives to help and things take a neat and disturbing turn on 13. The death on 14 is a shock, but becomes small when a realization is made at the bottom of the page. The true puppet master is revealed and things definitely go supernatural. This issue has a lot of surprises, especially for Usagi who is not used to dealing with so many demons. I was really concerned for both heroes on 18 until one of the characters makes a choice on 19 that changes the battle. Even after the evil is destroyed the surprises continue — panel three on Page 21 has a good jolt for the reader and Usagi. I loved how the heroes exited on 22, reminding me of Obi-Wan Kenobi. The final page is a good coda to this saga. I really enjoyed the supernatural elements of this tale and it has me hoping that Sakai will return to this genre to plague Usagi soon. Overall grade: A+

The art: Stan Sakai the artist does an outstanding with reality and supernatural horrors. The opening panel is a fright as Takagi drains a man of his life. I like that this is followed of a panel of Usagi shocked and Sasuke determined to make the puppet master pay. The turn in the second panel on the next page is wonderfully dramatic and the look that’s given is overflowing with hate. I like that Takagi is hunched over on this page and on 3, giving him a menacing look. The tiny female demon puppet is a constant creeper, calling back to the Zuni fetish doll that terrorized Karen Black in the classic TV movie Trilogy of Terror — it’s those teeth! They create shudders every time they are flashed. The large panel that spreads across Pages 4 and 5 is an excellent way to show how the pair of protagonists are surrounded by the tiny terrors. I really like that Sasuke charges into battle, while Usagi is attacked by the charging puppets; this is a terrific visual way to show how each man reacts to the supernatural threats. I love the puppets that fly about as Usagi thrashes at them, but is still losing to them. His fear and anger is apparent as he battles the creatures. The visual in the third panel on 10 is outstanding because this type of fighting is not often seen in this series. The attacks at the top and bottom of 12 are fantastic. The change in the battle at the bottom of 13 is not stated in text, but with the visuals, and any reader will be able to discern what’s occurring. The death on 14 is horrible and the fright that ends the page wonderful. The magic on 18 – 20 is really cool, reminding me of classic Steve Ditko Doctor Strange work. I absolutely love the look of the haggard character on 21, and the reaction in the fourth panel is perfection, matching that of many readers, I’m sure. The hand gesture at the bottom of 22 made the Star Wars fan in me really happy. This is an intense and surprising looking story. Overall grade: A+

The colors: For all the darkness in the story, colorist Tom Luth puts a tremendous amount of colors in this book. I love how Usagi is an eye catcher whenever he appears due to his blue togs. The bit of rose used for Takagi’s gums on Page 2 hints at the evil within him. The variety of colors for the puppets’ clothes has them looking like a wave of color attacking the heroes. The browns used for the settings are excellent; rather than be a repetition of the same brown for wood, Luth used every possible shade to make each panel unique in the settings. Very clever. The blues on 10 are awesome. Notice that when Takagi gets really intense on 12 his gums reappear as he speaks, allowing Luth to insert that sinister rose from the second page to return. Notice how another character gets that rose color on 16 to show where the true evil lies. The yellows, violets, and oranges on 18 – 21 are superb hallmarks of otherworldliness in this setting. Luth does an excellent job on this book. Overall grade: A+ 

The letters: The text of this issue is also by Stan Sakai. He creates the issue’s story title, laughter, dialogue, yells, and sounds. The story title for this issue appears atop the first panel and it’s a powerful scrawl that matches the ferocity of the first illustration of the book. The laughter that Takagi utters in the first panel adds a layer of hideousness to his unholy actions. The yells are many in this book and come in a variety of sizes so the reader is aware of the strength with which they are uttered. The sounds are cool, with KASH!, TANG!, FLOOM!, and FLOOSH! awesome. The lettering enhances every panel it appears. Overall grade: A+

The final line: This is an absolutely satisfying conclusion to this saga, with incredible action involving supernatural foes. The story is creepy, with Usagi out of his element, the visuals are frightening for the never ending wave of demon puppets, the colors are glorious even in this dark tale, and the text adds to the horrors and shocks of the visuals. This is a perfect comic book. Highest possible recommendation. 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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