Review: Usagi Yojimbo Senso #6

24907Not a dream, not a hoax, not an imaginary story. Well, actually, it’s kinda one of those.

(Warning. This review is from a long-time Usagi Yojimbo fan. He tried to keep a lid on it. He really did.)

Stan Sakai is back after a break from looking after his sick wife, with a superb Usagi Yojimbo story. We have come to expect over the 30 years (!) Stan has been crafting Usagi stories, particular styles of stories from the master. Not so much predictable or formulated, as a welcome dip into a familiar world carefully crafted with long term appeal. Senso (War) has introduced something we don’t get to see so much in the world of Usagi.

Something unexpected: an outright WTF!

Because the way the story was developing, as much sheer fun as it was to read, the question in the back of my mind was, This Changes Everything! And I mean in a B.P.R.D. monsters now rule the world kind of way! He’s gone down a path that is impossible to back out of, without turning it in to a hoax story of some kind.

(Spoilers ahead)

Senso starts out with a battle scene between Lord Hijiki and an adult Lord Nobiyuki, so most of issue 1 reads like a welcome return to the world of Usagi after a long break. Then things get weird. Senso has read like a ‘Usagi: The End’ story, with familiar faces meeting their deaths in glorious battle. But this is all against the backdrop of the story being invaded by The War of the Worlds. Everyone in Usagi world now faces survival against the seemingly indestructible tripods of the alien invaders. Gen, Jei, Chizu, the Komori Ninja clan, all die. Even the evil Lord Hebi, faced with the depths of Lord Hijiki’s evil, dies a noble death. It looks like no-one is getting out of this story alive!

Amid the carnage, Usagi snatched a moment with Tomoe in a very Japanese exchange regarding what ‘could have been’, and the price of honour in the face of feelings for each other.

So, when faced with a larger-than-life threat to everything in Japan, even in anthropomorphic feudal Japan, there’s only one way to respond. Jump in to a giant robot suit and go toe-to-toe with the enemy. Enter…Usagi Gundam! It just keeps getting better – issue 6 is a glorious homage to every Japanese monster movie. It’s East vs West in a funny animal comic, and Usagi was enjoying every minute of it! Well, until everything crashed down after immense property damage to Edo, but that’s to be expected.

Oh, and Usagi dies. Did I mention that this wasn’t a hoax story? Or a dream? Or an imaginary story? Well, here’s the final twist. This isn’t a Usagi Yojimbo story. It’s a Space Usagi story! How does that work out? I won’t give everything away, you’ll just have to read it for yourself. Needless to say, Stan Sakai has returned to Usagi Yojimbo in style. He has mixed everything we have come to expect with some thoroughly enjoyable liberties, and tied it all up with everything making perfect sense and all is well again in Usagi world.

I’m very much looking forward to the re-launch of Usagi Yojimbo, and maybe even a few more WTF moments too.

Review: Star Wars #4 – Wood and D’Anda

Review: Star Wars #4I can almost hear that instantly recognizable John Williams score as the Millennium Falcon zooms across the star field. I am not in a darkened Cineplex, I am sitting at my desk reading Dark Horse Comics’ Star Wars #4 by Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda. This team has so accurately and astutely captured the feel of the original films that it is Harrison Ford’s voice in my head as I read Han’s lines.

The issue begins with Han and Chewie being pursued by a squadron of T.I.E. fighters. As usual, the Corellian and his Wookiee co-pilot find themselves on the losing end of an Imperial proposition – until a very unorthodox solution presents itself. Chewbacca opens the Millennium Falcon’s hatch and uses his signature crossbow blaster to make short work of the menacing T.I.E. fighters. With the pursuing Imperials vanquished, the Millennium Falcon drifts into hiding more than a thousand levels below Coruscant’s surface.

Meanwhile, the Rebel Fleet under the command of Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma have (unbeknownst to Admiral Ackbar) deployed Gray Flight, a secret squadron of X-Wing fighters which includes Princess Leia, Wedge Antilles and a grounded Luke Skywalker. The squadron is so secret that Mon Mothma instructs Admiral Ackbar to not only scrub any mention of Gray Flight from the bridge logs but from his mind as well. The secret unit’s main objective is to scout locations and gather Intel on the Pybus System as part of searching for the Rebellion’s new home – a place they can regroup and grow strong again after their defeat of the first Death Star. Princess Leia has a second agenda of her own however – it is her hope that by having C-3PO slice misinformation into Rebel data cores that she can manipulate a spy entrenched deep within the Rebellion’s ranks into revealing him or herself. A short time into the mission an Imperial Star Destroyer and an Interdictor Cruiser show up and begin bombarding the surface of Pybus. As if this isn’t bad enough, two squadrons of T.I.E. Interceptors are deployed from the bottom of the huge Imperial Destroyer.

On the Rebel command ship, Luke hears the voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi warning him of impending danger for Leia. Against orders and probably his own better judgment, Luke suits up to join the fray in the Pybus System. As he retrieves a data-pad from a scolding C-3PO, we see an ominous sight. Slave One, the battered ship of infamous galactic bounty hunter Boba Fett creeps between the ships of the unknowing Rebel fleet like a stalking wolf amongst sheep.

In yet another part of the galaxy, Darth Vader meets with his Imperial admirals and commanders to discuss their apparent lack of progress in completing the second Death Star. Vader is displeased to say the least when he finds that the admiral would rather report directly to the Emperor in person than to him. In his classic fashion the Dark Lord of the Sith voices his opposition to this request by igniting his light saber through the admiral’s back. The glowing red beam exits his chest leaving the admiral quite dead.

When asked if anyone would care to back the admiral up we meet Birra Seah, a strange system designer. She explains to Vader that his reports no matter how descriptive cannot accurately communicate the details of such an undertaking as constructing a new, better and more deadly Death Star. She continues to boldly tell Vader that the work crews desire the stability that only the Emperor’s attendance could provide. It is at this point that Darth Vader senses a stirring in the force that he attributes to Birra Seah. Though somewhat taken aback by his comment she assures the Dark Lord that if she is granted temporary Moff status over the construction she will see to its completion personally. With this, Vader exits to the sanctuary of his meditation chamber to contemplate all that has transpired. He whispers one word, a name, “Skywalker.”

With their backs to the wall, the Gray Flight Squadron engage the T.I.E. interceptors above Pybus. Now armed with Proton torpedoes they prepare for what could very well be their last stand.

Brian Wood has captured the voice of Star Wars, not just the individual characters but the voice, the soul of the original films. He is writing high adventure set in an alien galaxy far, far away but near and dear to everyone who grew up with these characters. Much like the ensemble cast he created in his DV8 series for DC Comics, Wood gives each character a very distinct life of his or her own. Even though this time we have already been introduced to the characters for the most part when he does add a new member to this inter-galactic cast the way they interact with the existing characters rings true. Brian Wood is using his own thread but he is very successfully knitting into the multi-colored tapestry that is the Star Wars universe – a mosaic of space pirates and princesses, droids, wookies, Jedi and Sith Lords.

This is no doubt the assignment of a lifetime for Wood but a daunting task as well. The hyper-critical Star Wars fans can be a temperamental bunch – some of us will never be convinced that Han didn’t shoot first; we know he did and we like it that way! But I believe that if Brian Wood keeps the bar as high as he has set it with these first four issues and The Force continues to be with him, I have no doubt that this book will be a commercial and critical success.

The artwork thus far has been very aptly handled by Carlos D’Anda. His lines are very clean and sharp. His anatomy is believable and his faces are expressive – the robots, aliens and ships look exactly as they should. His backgrounds are exciting without overpowering and his page layouts flow in a very cinematic way which is perfect for this book. I hope these two stay together for a good long run, or at least until Disney says “You can’t play with our new toys anymore.” If you are not getting this book because you are afraid of the complicated timeline that now exists in the Star Wars universe, fear not. This book can be easily understood and enjoyed with nothing more than a working knowledge of the original three films. If you are a fan of those wonderful movies this is the book you should be reading. It captures the magic of the films without beating you over the head with jargon heavy convoluted stories and unresolved plot threads that leave you hanging over the pit of Sarlacc.

This is just good solid writing and dynamic top-notch artwork. You can’t ask for more than that.