Written by Jean-Francois Di Giorgio | Art by Frederic Genet | Published by Titan Comics | Format: Paperback, 32pp
Whatever the other merits of the book, and there are quite a few so don’t get worried, what you will probably take away with you is the artwork. I don’t ordinarily review the artwork first, as a good story needs a good script first and foremost, but for this I’ll make an exception. I read this book through twice, once to actually read it and once just to look at the artwork. Even without reading the text, I had a full understanding of what was going on just by following the gorgeously rendered, literally flowing from page to page, panel to panel artwork. The level of detail in even the smallest panel, the expressiveness of character’s faces, the beautifully rendered environment all add up to an incredible job. As I said in my review of the first issue, very cinematic.
This series follows the adventures of Takeo, a ronin adventurer (that’s a samurai with no master) who is searching for his missing brother, Akio. His travels bring him to the Isle With No Name where a nasty local Yakuza warlord, Nobunaga, is planning bad things for the villagers. His champion, Shobei, is a master Samurai and the villagers need their own champion to fight him. That’s obviously going to be Takeo, right? Actually, not so fast. Takeo is not a hero in the sense he helps everyone he meets, just in that he does the right thing when called upon by circumstance, and he is focused on his quest to find his brother which is bearing fruit. Ironically, that is the reason he has to keep a low profile, and when he backs down from a confrontation with the thugs the villagers despair.
They reluctantly call upon a very old former Samurai, Yoshida, to be their champion. His elderly wife finds Takeo and implores him to fight in her husband’s stead, otherwise it will be certain death. Takeo is torn between his duty to his brother, which requires him to keep a low profile until he gets off the island, and his duty as a Samurai to uphold its code of honour. For Takeo, ultimately, his code cannot allow him to leave these people in need, and he agrees to become their champion, as the issue ends with Takeo and Shobei facing off against each other.
This was a very lean comic book, with not one ounce of fat to be cut away. Every panel had a purpose, every bit of dialogue relevant, every scene pushing the narrative forward. It was truly an effortless read. The worst thing I could level against this issue is that it has a little of the ‘seen it all before’ feel about it. Village in need, loner champion arrives, saves the day etc. It is a well used story, but then again reinterpretation is a mainstay of fiction; Clint Eastwood spaghetti western films essentially copy classic samurai motifs after all. For me, the style and attention to detail push this beyond a re-tread of old ideas.
Di Giorgio and Genet are something of a dream team on this book. Genet’s art alone would carry the book if the script was mediocre, but Di Giorgio throws in as much nuance, detail, and emotion into his scripting as Genet does with his art. Books like this also help showcase why comic books are more than just spandex clad heroes and villains punching each other. These are truly talented creative individuals who express themselves through the comic book art form.
I feel lucky to be along for the ride.
Samurai #2 is out now from Titan Comics