Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Every serious comics fan needs to have this collection

 

SAMURAI’S BLOOD VOLUME 1 TP  (Image Comics/Benaroya Publishing)  194 pages. $14.99. Release date : February 29, 2012.  Story: Owen Wiseman.  Art: Nam Kim.  Matthew Dalton & Jessica Kholinne.  Covers by Jo Chen.

There are two great reasons to celebrate the Leap Year day of February 29 in 2012.

1) It’s Superman’s official birthday.

2)  It’s the release day for SAMURAI’S BLOOD VOLUME 1 TP !!! - - - a book that belongs on the shelves of all serious comics collectors as well as anyone who wants to possess a damn fine reading experience.  This is a “keeper”, one of those books you are always glad to return to and read a second and third or more times. 

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Get ready for more accolades as I wholeheartedly endorse this book as one of the finest combinations of text and art working together in recent memory.  I won’t stick my neck out like this on behalf of just any book - - SAMURAI’S BLOOD is very special.  I strongly recommend it to everyone and I do so free of monetary compensation or obligation to say so.   I feel strongly about the merits of this book.  I’m passionate about it and I want to share the love with you. 

I’ve previously written about the individual issues of SAMURAI’S BLOOD each month it was published last year and I made it a PGHHEAD PICK for 2011 as FAVORITE ORIGINAL MINI-SERIES.  I also chose it as the PGHHEAD PICK for 2011 for FAVORITE SINGLE ISSUE STORY (SAMURAI’S BLOOD #3). 

SAMURAI’S BLOOD takes place in 17th century Japan and centers around  three teenage survivors as they work their plans for revenge against those who slaughtered all their family and Sanjo clan members in a bloody village attack.  This epic tale has a flow and rhythm to it that quickly engage the reader and immerse you in this historical world.  Writer Owen Wiseman is a student of Japanese history and culture and his impressions are seamlessly threaded throughout the story.  Little grains of Samurai philosophy and wisdom are highlighted in text boxes and scattered throughout the illustrations.   The art team gets everything right in every detail, from exquisitely depicted landscapes to fluid action and fight scenes to facial expressions. 

In a short video interview that can be accessed via www.samuraisblood.com Wiseman explains that SAMURAI’S BLOOD as a title has multiple meanings.  It refers to the blood that is spilled in many fierce battles throughout the book, as well as what it means to be a Samurai in the 17th century and have that blood running through your veins.  The amount of blood and carnage in this series makes me hesitate to recommend it to elementary or middle school libraries, but I feel the current high school student is mature enough to handle this.  It would make an excellent addition to a school’s graphic novel library.  It could also be used in the classroom  (philosophy, history, art, comics illustration, creative writing, etc).

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For anyone who needs further convincing, you can preview the first issue at that same website, as well as read some prose by Wiseman based on the world of SAMURAI’S BLOOD.  I was also happy to learn that there are six more stories planned, and hope that the art team remains intact for every one of them.

Beyond it’s primary tale of young Samurai revenge it further explores the master and retainer relationship prominent in Japan society of that time period.  It’s also a tale of personal growth, sacrifice, honor, values, internal and external conflicts, doubt, choices, suffering, compromise, love, betrayal, persistence, faith, revenge and redemption.

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You don’t have to look deep into SAMURAI’S BLOOD to find additional depth.  It’s always there in the caption boxes with the revealing insights, and then reinforced through Kim’s powerful illustrations that work in conjunction with the prose to make their points.   In that same interview Wiseman has high praise for Philadelphia-based Nam Kim.  He says he has the “perfect style”, and comments that after viewing the first two pages of script illustrated by Kim he knew “he could capture exactly what’s in my mind and make it even better” by turning a 2 panel draft into 1 panel or introducing a more dynamic angle to spotlight a particular scene.

Here are some more highlights that can be found throughout the series:

  • There are enough details of early Japanese culture, social mores, philosophy and the honorable traditions of the Samurai to fill a notebook.  Much of this is described in captions which help flavor the main story rather than interrupt it.
  • From the gorgeous and telling cover to the story and art of Issue #3, which tells the sad tale of the breaking of Mayuko’s spirit – her forced tutoring in the art of the oiron girl – and the prospect of a life of compliance, servitude, and submission – you will understand why I picked this as the absolute best single issue comics story of 2011. The parts of the story that detail the 4 levels of suffering and then fully define each one through vivid illustration is worth the admission price alone.
  • Art that is breath-taking to view and is perfectly in sync with the story, always embellishing and enhancing the impact the writer intended.

I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  If I want to show non-readers of comics a good current example of the majestic heights of grandeur that this wonderful art form (comics and graphic novels) is capable of  - - then the SAMURAI’S BLOOD VOLUME 1 TP is the absolute best of 2011 that I can refer them to.

Perhaps like I, you will find that SAMURAI’S BLOOD deserves its place at the head of the class of those other fantastic comics works featuring feudal Japanese literature such as Kazuo Koike’s LONE WOLF AND CUB;  SAMURAI: HEAVEN AND EARTH and THE PATH by Ron Marz;  and Chuck Dixon’s THE WAY OF THE DRAGON.

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