(w/a) Stan Sakai (c) Tom Luth
Usagi Yojimbo is one of the few long-running comics that has been consistently great. From the original run at Fantagraphics to the roughly 200 issues at Dark Horse, there has not been a single issue that could be objectively considered “bad.” It is unheard almost of for a book to go that long without one hiccup, especially one with the same creator. However, the amount of back issues made jumping into Usagi Yojimbo a seemingly daunting task, especially in this era of binge-consumption and completionism. That’s what makes this new series so appealing. The change in publishers marks a clear break from the past stories, and the addition of colored interiors gives the series something extra to entice not only longtime readers, but new ones as well. And true to the series’ legacy, this first issue is spectacular.
As is the case with past volumes of Usagi Yojimbo, this issue sees Stan Sakai give readers a lesson in the history of feudal Japan and its culture. This opening arc, titled “Bunraku,” emphasizes traditional Japanese puppet theater, albeit with a supernatural twist. What is curious is that Sakai holds back on showing readers the titular protagonist, instead featuring one of his supporting characters engaged in a battle to the death. It is not until several pages in when readers meet Miyamoto Usagi, and when they do he is enjoying a showing of the aforementioned Bunraku.
Sakai wisely bucks conventional wisdom by spending the remainder of the issue introducing readers to Usagi’s character through conversations and pleasant interactions with those he encounters. While his demeanor is well known to long-time readers, this affords Sakai the opportunity to flesh out the character for new readers. He is well-cultured, inquisitive, and unafraid of asking difficult questions while maintaining a sense of decorum. In a world where comic book creators increasingly try (and fail) to add psychological tension to their heroes, Sakai’s character is a rare breed: a well-adjusted, heroic good guy. Unfortunately, that is not fully fleshed out in this issue, as the issue is mostly concerned with setting up the arc’s main conflict.
The artwork is practically flawless. Sakai’s pages are comprised of clean lines, detailed settings, and expressive, fluid characters. While Usagi Yojimbo’s black and white aesthetic may be iconic, it is hard to deny that Tom Luth’s colors are a perfect complement to Sakai’s pencils and inks. This is a gorgeous title, inviting readers to get lost in even the most seemingly mundane sequences.
Usagi Yojimbo #1 is a perfect relaunch for the long-running series. It is inviting to new readers but continues to move the narrative forward from the Dark Horse series. The future looks bright for the rabbit ronin.