Indie Comics Spotlight: Masumi, Imperial, Usagi Yojimbo

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by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)



Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1

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“I call it Kameyama.”

Usagi Yojimbo is one of the fiercest rabbits fighters you’ll ever have the privilege of encountering. He’s loyal, wise, and combat ready, making any story about him a fantastic read. Dark Horse has another book to enter into that pantheon in Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1written and illustrated by Stan Sakai.

Twenty years in his future, Miyamoto Usagi fights as a general for Lord Noriyuki against the treacherous Lord Hikiji. In the fury of the final battle, a metal rocket crashes to earth—and inside is an enemy that neither side could have ever imagined. Even with Usagi Yojimbo on the front lines, things are a little more than the armies can handle. And don’t forget about the rather epic battlefield littered with valiant soldiers fighting for their respective causes.

Usagi Yojimbo is a character that Sakai knows extremely well and it definitely shows in Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1. The conversations on the battlefield are handled masterfully, with Sakai infusing the players with an abundance of detail and character based on their war time decisions. Some are reluctant to fight amidst the changing technology around them, while others still rush headlong into battle with little to no regard for the consequences. Sakai showcases the elegance and pageantry that can be found amidst the chaos of war in a way that feels enjoyable to read. His dialogue is very clean and straightforward, not bogging the reader down in an excess of words.

Sakai’s illustrations are very familiar to fans of his universe. His ability to anthropomorphize animals is among the best and all of his characters exhibit a wide range of facial emotions. Usagi Yojimbo carries his typically stern expression that rarely flinches, even when faced with a charging front. The other characters showcase their predominant personality types as tied to the animals illustrated. The serpent looks like a schemer, the rhino looks aggressive, and the panda a battlefield leader. Sakai’s illustrations are extremely simple, but they’re so effective when it comes to showcasing the action.

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1 is another solid entry in Sakai’s most famed character. Usagi Yojimbo and the others are faced with a new evil in technology. It’s something they’ve encountered before, but not something they’re ready to deal with completely. Sakai’s story is very elegant and an enjoyable read, while his illustrations reflect a similar beautiful simplicity. This is a book that fans of Sakai’s will not want to miss and even those who aren’t familiar with his universe will want to delve into the madness.

Usagi Yojimbo: Senso #1 is in stores now.

Imperial #1

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“I wasn’t, y’know, expectin’ someone ta drop in from above like that…Out in the middle of nowhere an’ all…so, I kinda freaked a little.”

Being a hero is easier said than done. Sure, everyone says they’ll jump into a burning building to save their loved ones, but when there really is a fire, fear steps in and takes over. Heroes overcome this fear and do what’s necessary. That fear they must overcome certainly has nothing do with meal tasting for a wedding, as it does in Imperial #1 from Image Comics. The issue is written by Steven T. Seagle and illustrated by Marc Dos Santos.

Mark is just a guy. He’s two weeks away from marrying the woman of his dreams, finalizing the details of his wedding, and enjoying living with a new roommate. He’s also in line to be something else. Something bigger. He’s been tapped by Imperial — the world’s only superhero — to take the crown from him. That leaves Mark with a pretty big decision. Take the ring of the woman of his dreams and becoming a married man? Or take the crown of the world’s only superhero and become the next Imperial?

Superheroes as everyday citizens is quickly becoming a new trend in comics, with many writers focusing more on the ramifications of superheroes on normal life. Seagle takes things in a slightly different direction, tasking a “normal” with the responsibility of being the next incarnation of the hero. Giving the new hero a choice, so to speak, is refreshing and hammers home the concept that powers may be appealing, but balancing them with real life is tricky. Seagle doesn’t have Mark find this out after the fact; rather, he essentially is tasked with choosing if he wants to be normal or super, having only known the normal side. The dialogue does a great job conveying this choice, as Imperial uses somewhat more established and refined conversational words, while Mark’s fiancee Katie is emphasized as being a little more crass.

There’s a buddy cop aspect to Imperial #1 and Dos Santos reinforces this with his relatively light illustrative style. Mark, Imperial, and Katie are the main characters in the book and they’re illustrated with an emphasis on their simplicity. Dos Santos relies on extremely clean lines for his characters and they feel like organic participants in the world of the book. That’s a testament to his ability with the backgrounds, somehow making an abundance of rather simple shapes feel like more in-depth than one would expect. It’s a very minimalist style that fits with the equally stripped down story that’s very simple in its presentation.

Imperial #1 feels new. It capitalizes on the recent trend of normalizing superheroes, but giving the reader a character who doesn’t know what it’s like to be a hero before having to choose provides a path less traveled. Seagle’s story is remarkably straightforward and simple, but there are many deeper levels of subtexts buried within that simplicity. Dos Santos’ art is equally as spartan in some ways, while still managing to demonstrate a level of complexity that readers will appreciate. Imperial #1 is a quality book that appears poised to move in a relatively unknown direction.

Imperial #1 is in stores now.

Masumi: Blades of Sin #1

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“I have traveled this world and others. Battled against demons and took up arms with friends. Doing what I had to do in service to my calling.”

At some point in everyone’s life, there’s the distinct possibility that they’ll be tasked with handling two extremely powerful swords possessed by a demon. And while that may be more of the exception than the rule, it’s something you may want to start planning for. A good primer for such an event is Masumi: Blades of Sin #1 from Zenescope Entertainment. The issue is written by Joe Tyler, illustrated by Sergio Osuna, colored by Francesca Zambon, and lettered by Jim Campbell.

Masumi Yamomoto is a woman out of her time. After a battle against evil left her trapped in a hellish dimension for almost two hundred years, she returned to Earth and attempted to start a new life in a new world. However, Masumi’s past eventually caught up to her and the man she loved was killed by a powerful demon called Legion. Masumi defeated the demon, but at a cost – Legion is now trapped within her samurai swords and she is bound by the laws of the Yamamoto clan to ensure that the evil spirit never escapes.

Masumi: Blades of Sin #1 is a departure in some ways for Zenescope as it doesn’t directly tie into the Grimm Fairy Tales universe in that Masumi isn’t really a fairy tale character. That doesn’t mean that Zenescope won’t seek to tie her into some of their other massive storylines, but for now, Tyler’s tasked with introducing the reader to what is essentially a brand new character. He does so in a way that’s very heavy on the hand-holding, very bluntly laying out Masumi’s plight to the reader through her conversations with her swords. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though, but it does take away from the reader’s own interpretations just a bit. The story itself is pretty straightforward and Masumi has a lot of responsibility as someone with such a distinguished lineage.

Osuna’s art fits the Zenescope style, largely because it over-sexualizes Masumi as the main character. Many of her appearances in the book feel less like she’s moving and more like she’s posing, which further emphasizes her voluptuous figure. It’s a little distracting at times, because it makes it feel as if Masumi is the only thing on each page that you should pay attention to. The other characters do exhibit some exaggerated body styles as well, but none as much so as Masumi herself. Osuna doesn’t spend too much time detailing the backgrounds, which makes the characters interacting with them feel as if they stick out a bit more than they probably should. Tokyo is such a vibrant setting, but unfortunately very little of that comes through in the artwork.

Masumi: Blades of Sin #1 is interesting and signifies a step in a different direction for Zenescope. Recently, they’ve been working to branch out from the fairy tale heroines they’ve largely staked their reputation on and this book is another step towards that. Tyler’s script feels in line with the universe and offers another strong, female warrior character seeking to preserve her legacy. Osuna’s illustrations make the book feel like any other Zenescope book, even though they do focus more on Masumi’s body as opposed to the world around her. Masumi: Blades of Sin #1 is something Zenescope fans will likely not hesitate to check out, while those on the fence will find that at the end of the day the book falls in line with other Zenescope books.

Masumi: Blades of Sin #1 is in stores now.


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