There’s something about the freedom of a ronin or the ability of a master samurai that gets readers’ attention. This is in part due to the lawlessness these characters live amongst and the justice they impart, but it’s also because ancient Japan is a fascinating setting. I take a look at Titan Comics’ new series Samurai and ask the question, is it good?
Samurai #1 (Titan Comics)
Ronin and protagonist Takeo is on a quest to learn more about what happened to his family and more about a tattoo that saved his life. Like most ronin he wanders and is reflective of what he comes upon and early on we learn there’s a town that’s in trouble. A mysterious plague has hit the people every year and around the same time a rich aristocrat arrives to take a massive tariff from them. He doesn’t simply take it though and instead a fight between each side’s champion decides if they pay or not. Unfortunately for the town they spent all their tariff money on assassins who failed. Guess it’s up to Takeo!
Check out our preview for more background.
Why does this book matter?
In case you didn’t know this is a continuation of a series published by Marvel, but if you’re new to it like me, not to worry as it’s easily accessible. Plus this series comes with watercolor covers by David Mack which is pretty sweet! Without getting into the review artist Frédéric Genêt delivers a rather European style with unconventional layouts (think more complex and varied) and a more realistic style when it comes to environments and surroundings.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Like stepping into a documentary this comic feels genuine and like an accurate depiction of ancient Japan. This is largely due to Genêt’s exquisite drawings in high detail. You can tell a lot of effort went into researching huts, boats and costumes to make this series read like historical fact. This of course grounds the book in reality and makes the story feel all the more important.
Considering how much detail he’s infused into every panel it’s a wonder how much is here. The layouts are quite complex; take for instance a scene where a samurai is walking to a boat. We quickly see three assassins close up on the side of the panel peering at him. Unaware of their attempt to kill him he goes on his way, but a quick step makes him turn and serve unruly justice on these bastards. That action takes place over 18 panels spread across two pages. 18 panels! Go check your common superhero comic and you’ll note some pages have four panels at best. The number of panels not only delivers more action, but has an effect on pace. It can either speed it up or slow it down depending on the action taking place.
On top of the detail and interesting layouts Genêt does a fantastic job with mood and atmosphere. From a rainy gloomy day that foreshadows danger to a beautiful scene between two old married folks amongst cherry blossoms Genêt imbues each scene with a specific mood much like you’d see in cinema.
Okay enough about the art, what about the writing? Jean-François Di Giorgio writes a solid story, again similar to a more European style, that cuts between three different stories. One is our man Takeo wandering for answers, one shows the old married couple with the wife dying of consumption, and another centers around an old chiseled samurai. This issue introduces each of them well and even has Takeo cross paths with the samurai. One of the reasons this doesn’t feel like American comics is how much happens and goes on in a single issue. Usually the events in this single issue would take place over two or three issues, but instead we get thorough backstories, plot progression with the town and two action scenes. These scenes set up Takeo’s fighting ability and his good guy but tough guy demeanor.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This may be more of an ensemble story, but if Takeo is truly the main focus the narrative does stray from him quite a bit. That makes the read feel a bit too meandering as you lose the point of say, the old married couple, but it’s still early yet. For all we know they play a huge part in Takeo’s storyline.
The panel described above.
Is It Good?
In many ways this single issue reads like a graphic novel. It’s filled with character moments, action and atmosphere and feels incredibly well rounded. If you’re interested in ancient Japan, detailed art and great storytelling you can’t go wrong with Samurai.