In Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #2

This is a constant hallmark of excellence in comics. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: Usagi frantically fights three men on the streets of the city. In the foreground, a hand reveals that someone is watching the fray from a distance. Will this individual jump in and assist the title character or simply watch, hoping that the ronin’s life ends? There’s only way to find out — buy this issue! Great tease from Stan Sakai and colorist Tom Luth. Composing scenes with several characters has got to be difficult, but to do so with each engaging the other a nightmare. Sakai captures this moment in the battle excellently. The pose of each character is like a ballet of death. The background is also well done. I really like the details in the tiles on the building and the subtle indicators of dirt on the ground. Luth also deserves praise for coloring the characters so that Usagi stands out: the character’s blues and whites instantly catch the eye against the muter colors of his foes and the darker backgrounds. Overall grade A

The story: Usagi and Inspector Ishida have discovered a body. The man was in possession of a cross, identifying him as a Kirishitan, a faithful follower of the recently outlawed religion. The body is cold; he has been dead for hours. As they ponder what to do, Chief Inspector Ito arrives on his steed. Ito assumes the man and another were ronin, which inflames Usagi. As the chief speaks, he looks at the title character, “There are too many unemployed samurai warriors now that the shogun’s peace is upon the land. Those filthy ronin wander around causing trouble!” Ishida intervenes, stating Usagi has been “invaluable in many investigations.” The samurai argues the dead men couldn’t have been ronin because the quality of their clothes, while dusty, is too fine for poor ronin. Caring nothing for their conclusion, Ito rides off in dismissal, saying that the capture of Nezumi the thief is of greater importance. Watching him take his leave, Usagi says, “He doesn’t like me, does he?” Ishida smiles, “He dislikes all ronin.” This opening from writer Stan Sakai sets the premise for the issue, if one missed the first installment: he introduces the two leads, while teasing some future conflict with the always present Ito. The final panel of Page 4 is a nice character moment between the protagonists, providing a nice moment of levity in this mystery. The page that follows wonderfully defines Ishida and what motivates him in his profession. The men investigate two characters who may have encountered the dead men earlier and this leads to an action sequence with fatal results. The reactions of the larger character on 11 – 14 are realistic, giving this story a believable tone. The pair then question a powerful character that creates more questions than answers. The issue ends with the pair going to a familiar establishment where another character appears. This individual will spin the tale into interesting directions, to be sure! I love the mystery, but the characters of Usagi and Ishida are wonderful. If the two were to sit and just hold a conversation during a meal for an entire issue I would be satisfied, they are both so rounded as characters. Overall grade: A+

The art: The first panel throws the reader into the story, with Usagi and Ishida crouching down to look at the body of dead man who is propped up against a container. The eyes of the dead man are wide open, grotesquely looking in different directions. In Ishida’s hand is the man’s cross. This one image visually tells the reader all they need to know to start this issue. Pulling back for the bottom panel, artist Stan Sakai shows that there are other men on the scene, as well as an iconic wild creature. Look at all the crosshatching Sakai does in the background building to allow the characters to pop off the page. If this work was to be colored, different hues could be employed to create the same effect, but as this book is in black and white, Sakai does this to differentiate the backgrounds from the characters. This is a terrific amount of work to create such a beautiful effect and he does it throughout the book. When the characters learn of Ito’s approach on the second page, look at the nifty point of view for the bottom panel, showing the distance between characters and the tight space. Doing so makes Ito’s arrival on a horse even more uncomfortable. Ito has a constant frown on his face, telling the reader that Usagi’s presence upsets him. The final panel on Page 4 made me smile, for the lack of understanding on Usagi and the smile on Ishida. When the inspector speaks on 5 his brow becomes more pronounced, giving his words an intensity. The action that begins on 8 is startling because it happens so quickly. The arrival on 9 is equally shocking. The battle is quick, but the reader should take a moment to look at all the incredible details in Sakai’s work: the character design, the characters’ poses, their clothing, the backgrounds, and the ground. Yes, the ground. Such an element can be over or underdone by an artist, but Sakai puts just the right amount of detail in it for the reader to recognize it’s dirt. The reactions of the survivor of the battle are perfection; one can feel his shock and nervousness throughout his conversation with the leads. Pages 16 – 20 have a different type of intensity as an interview is conducted and propriety must be maintained, though one character becomes incensed. The emotions of the characters reveal as much to the reader as the dialogue. The final location made me smile, for I love this place, which has become so well established it could carry a back up story on its own. The reveal in the last panel is a perfect tease to get the reader to return for the next issue. I know I will. Overall grade: A+

The letters: The bold story title, dialogue, an animal’s iconic sound, yells, screams, and one sound are letterer’s Stan Sakai’s contributions to this issue. The action is brief, and needs to be so because of its speed, so several sounds were not needed to punch it up. The opening title is dynamic with it’s bold design, looking as though it’s been frantically created, matching the speed with which the characters must solve the mystery. The dialogue is very easy to read, with some words italicized to allow the reader to better hear where characters place the emphasis in their speech. I love when letterers do this. There are also several screams and yells, most during the battle. They are in different sizes and shapes to show the different intensity of each person’s utterances. Overall grade: A+

“Chibi Tomoe and the Zo Ninja”: Created by Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai, who credit themselves as Just Sakaivery clever! — have a one page story that begins on the inside back cover of this issue. Chibi-Noriyuki asks Chibi-Tome if she’s heard any news of a new ninja in the area. Her response is stopped when they hear a noise, resulting in the reader seeing a delightful new character. Nope, sorry, Sakais. You can’t stop there with that panel. I want more. It’s too cute and funny to stop. This is short but fun. Overall grade: A+

The final line: The mystery goes in deadly directions, ending with a sinister reveal. The characters are some of the best written characters in the industry, with the artwork always staggeringly detailed. This is a constant hallmark of excellence in comics. The only mystery is why you’re not reading this. 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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