In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #4

A clever action intro leads to a new character and the trouble that surrounds her.

The cover: This is an exciting cover! Usagi holds a demon tiger down by one of its ears and raises his sword back to finish the beast. If he looked behind him he would see a monstrous serpent raising back its head to strike the ronin before the killing blow can be dealt. Great action on this and the colors are the brightest yet in this series from IDW. Really cool cover from Stan Sakai and Tom LuthOverall grade: A

The story: This is definitely one of the most surprising openings I’ve read from writer Stan Sakai’s adventures of his iconic hero. A hero that resembles Usagi screams to an unseen companion, “Shibito! Stay back! Stay back!Shibito means zombies and six of the sword and spear wielding undead are lunging at the hero. As he strikes several down more come running at him. They moan and groan as they make their way to end his life, with one of the creatures saying something smile worthy in the first panel on Page 3. This moment of humor is then put aside for a cry from help on a nearby hill. The hero sees his lady being held one of the zombies who states, “HURR…The longer she stays here the more she becomes as us — Until she is fit to become my bride!” This encourages the hero to fight harder, but the creatures numbers never seem to dwindle. Just as the hero is about to be overcome, Sakai moves the story in a very unexpected direction with a neat action on Page 7. Without spoiling things, as the issue progresses Usagi meets Lady Mura and accompanies her as she travels to visit her father. Along the way he learns about her interesting profession, her husband, and a terrible truth on 10. Action reenters the issue on Page 12 and it was neat to Usagi in action again. His comment at the bottom of 17 was something I had noticed at the start of the melee and knew that these antagonists were very lucky. The issue ends in a neat location, with Usagi doing something that leaves him unaware of what’s outside. Great tease in the beginning of this issue that leads to the introduction of an interesting character who unintentional leads the title character into more than one world of action. Overall grade: A

The art: Stan Sakai the artist starts the issue with a full-paged splash of the hero fighting a wall of zombies charging at him. I’m still slightly startled seeing Usagi fighting supernatural characters because it doesn’t happen often. I love the look of the dead things, with several of them having their heads hanging at a wholly incorrectly angle. When the cry for help is uttered, the look of worry on the hero is great in the top panel and turns to one of absolute horror at the bottom of 3. This is followed by the leader of the zombies having a look of dread on its face on 5, giving the reader hope that the hero has a chance. A turn of the page has this look like an impossibility with the entrance of a new combatant into the fray. The action that begins 7 is so small in comparison of what’s gone before, it catches the reader off guard and results in a great moment of understanding. For 8 – 11 two characters walk and talk, allowing Sakai to show some neat scenery and a sorrow filled discovery at the bottom of 10. I like how 11 ends with the pair very happy, allowing the arrivals on 12 to completely change the tone. I really like how the horse looks as monstrous as its rider on 12. Having the antagonists stay on their horses has Usagi looking up to them, making it seem as if they are superior to him. Long time readers of this ronin will know that this is not the case. The tease that ends 14 is good, but the top of 15 will have eagle eyed readers know what’s not being done in this battle. Horses are often sighted as difficult for artists, but Sakai doesn’t seem to have an issue with these animals looking realistic, strong, and fierce. The location where the book ends has been shown before in other issues, but I never get tired of this setting. I love the addition of the “vermins” leaving when the characters enter. The final page is made up of three panels that show where one character is, what another is doing (no surprise!), and the tease for impending doom. Great visual cliffhanger! Overall grade: A+ 

The colors: The zombies are colored in similar hues to make them appear to be an unending wave of death attacking the hero. Since the protagonist has bright colors, blue sleeves and white fur, he stands out strongly in every panel he appears. The dreary blue-gray sky adds to the overwhelming tone of death that comes at the hero. Tom Luth brightens the background on 7 to assist the artwork in showing how the setting has changed and it works well. I like the clouds at the bottom of this same page and they continue throughout the pair’s travels. Bright reds pants for the new character draw attention to her as much as Usagi’s blue top; this is a clever way to have the reader focus on them. The antagonists on 12 have dark wine colored robes that instantly give them a menacing tone. The character wearing green on 20 caught my eye for his bright clothes and this too was a smart way to make him stand out. The grays used in the final panel are like an exclamation point of danger against the browns of the background. Luth is aces on this book. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Stan Sakai is also the letterer of this book, creating the title, zombie groans, yells, dialogue, sounds, a tokay EEP!, and the tease for next issue. The title is a dramatic large font that is the perfect introduction to the action occurring beneath it. The zombie groans are in italics, making it seem as if each utterance causes them pain. The dialogue is easy to read, with certain words in italics to show stress in the speaker’s voice and they are differed from yells with the latter being in a larger and thicker font. There are only three sounds. They aren’t very large, but are effective, with the first on 7 being brilliantly small. I always love seeing tokay EEPs! The tease for next issue is in italics, adding to the drama of the cliffhanger. Overall grade: A

The final line: A clever action intro leads to a new character and the trouble that surrounds her. I love the action, but the characters are so good, if Sakai wanted to have an issue devoted to characters just sitting and talking a table for an entire issue I would be a happy camper. The visuals are great, with the art beautiful and the colors increasing their power. This is a series that should be on everyone’s pull list. Recommended. 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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