Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

31 July 2009

Usagi Yojimbo, v. 23: Bridge of Tears

Collects: Usagi Yojimbo (v. 3) #94-102 (2006-7)

Released: July 2009 (Dark Horse)

Format: 248 pages / black and white / $17.95 / ISBN: 9781595822987

What is this?: The rabbit ronin fights ninjas and gangsters, but he’s completely out of his depth with a waitress

The culprit: Stan Sakai

Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo is one of the most consistent series out there. Month in and month out, Sakai delivers issues that are excellent reads. The collections are no exception, and Usagi Yojimbo, v. 23: Bridge of Tears is just the latest example.

In Bridge of Tears, Usagi deals with assassins and gangsters — the usual stuff, really; if Usagi is to be believed, feudal Japan was filled with ninjas, swordsmen, and gangsters. (And anthropomorphic animals; but I digress.) But a waitress who just wants to blow town and hit the road is Usagi’s greatest challenge, one he’s completely unprepared to deal with.

Usagi Yojimbo, v. 23: Bridge of Tears coverThe book begins with Usagi foiling the assassination of a merchant; this is standard stuff for the rabbit ronin, who runs into trouble and people needing armed help wherever he goes. But this makes him a target for the League of Assassins. Sakai draws others into the story: the reluctant assassin Shizukiri and his prostitute lover, the waitress Mayumi who desires only to run away from her gangster-corrupted town. Sakai spends eight of the nine issues in Bridge of Tears moving them toward a climax that is far more moving than it has any right to be, given that two of the characters were created only in this volume.

Sakai also advances the subplots of other characters: Chizu, former leader of the Neko ninja on the run from her clan, and the demon Jei, being chased down by bounty hunters Ren and Stray Dog. The latter involves a dramatic battle in which it seems at any moment that Sakai might kill or maim one of his long-running characters; the former allows Sakai to give a frightening look at one way the Jei storyline might play out as well as weakening Usagi for the climax of Bridge of Tears. (Usagi is such a great swordsman even Sakai realizes it’s hard to believe Usagi will fall in a swordfight if he’s at full strength.) Though these two stories are not part of the main plot, none of the book is wasted — each story, each revelation contributes to building Bridge of Tears or in whetting the appetite for the next volume. Which I want. Now.

The only complaint I have about Bridge of Tears is that the covers are not placed before the story they illustrate, being instead grouped at the end of the volume. As good as the cover for the “Fever Dream” story — a demonically possessed Usagi in front of a long line of corpses, with the speech balloons with their last breaths filling the cover — is, it would have had an even greater impact if it had been placed with the story. Still, I suppose I should be glad they’re included.

The end of the volume is a “roast” of Stan Sakai, celebrating 100 issues of Usagi Yojimbo at Dark Horse. Although there is the occasional chuckle, it isn’t a roast, as it doesn’t make much fun of Sakai or his most famous creation, and for the most part it isn’t that funny. Sakai’s own stories in the feature and the short Sergio Aragones reminiscence of things he’s eaten with Sakai are pretty good, though.

As always, you should be reading Usagi Yojimbo. Buy this book and pre-order the next, whenever it might come out.

Rating: Rabbit symbol Rabbit symbol Rabbit symbol Rabbit symbol half rabbit symbol (4.5 of 5)

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