Written by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio | Art by Frederic Genet | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
A film in book form is the closest term of phrase I could find to sum up my first impressions of Samurai #1. On first flick through, without even reading the text, I just thought what a fantastic look this book has visually, very cinematic in look and feel. Very intricate panel work, visually interesting characters and just a nice looking thing. Visuals alone, of course, cannot carry a book, and I was hoping the writing would match the quality of the art, or at least not detract too much from it.
As some will know, comics starring the hero Takeo have been published for the last several years, in both the European market and then by Marvel Comics in the US. Although worth searching out (for the art alone) you do not need to read them to have any understanding of this story, as the creators do a good job of telling their tale in such a way that this issue is both a decent entry point for new readers, and moves forward with a couple of plot threads from before to please established fans. Some intro text at the beginning also helps.
The plot is surprisingly simple. Takeo, a samurai with no master known as a ronin, has come to the Isle with No Name searching for his missing brother, Akio. Once there, it becomes apparent the people are falling ill to a mysterious sickness and they need a champion to defend themselves from some Yakuza thugs led by a local nasty, Nobunaga. It’s all pretty routine stuff, but done in a very stylish way, and the ‘seen it all before’ storyline is enhanced by the small moments thrown in, the interaction between characters, the quality of the dialogue. Indeed, at times Di Giorgio uses no text at all, allowing the amazingly expressive art tell the story. Little touches like this make something old new again.
Although the dialogue and interplay is good, there’s no avoiding the fact we have as our main character a pretty archetypal anti-hero type. Handsome, cheeky, master of several fighting styles, man of few words and fewer friends….you get the picture. A little more depth to Takeo wouldn’t go amiss, especially as Di Giorgio shows with his writing of the supporting characters that he is more than capable of this. Their dialogue and interaction, especially the elderly couple in the village, rings true. I also applaud the fact that although the book is called Samurai, it is not cover to cover endless fighting. The fighting, when it does occur, actually has greater impact because it is firmly used only to advance the plot, not just thrown in every few pages to fulfill a quota (you’d Marvel at what some comics publishers editorially enforced back in the day, naming no names of course).
So slightly routine and cliché, yes. Done with such style and flair you don’t really mind, also yes. Make no mistake though, the art carries this book. Visually outstanding, deeply textured panels, amazing quality of detail on every page, a real labour of love. I would pretty much recommend this to anyone, taking into account the subject matter may not be to everyone’s taste, and the violence is a little more than the average mainstream comic (hey, they use swords!).
You’ll definitely stay for the art though.
Samurai #1 is out now from Titan Comics