February 14th. How about a love story today, Martians? No, this isn’t your usual box of chocolates. This is an issue of one of the greatest comic book series of all time: Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima.
You’d have to live in a cave to not be hip to this series by now. But, just in case they only have caves on your planet, and you’ve been eating the remnants of your spaceship to survive since 1968, allow us to offer you one of our favorite issues from this amazing series: Wife of the Heart.
Almost all of the elements we love about Lone Wolf and Cub come together in this story: themes of honor and duty, over-the-top violent sword fights, and the implacable character of Itto Ogami, former exectioner for the Shogun. We enjoy the way young Daigoro bears silent witness to both tiny natural beauties and epic human tragedies.
Like many of the stories, this one contains a bit of history, too. A character is inventing a suspension bridge, one of many technological advances we see evolve in the historical context of Lone Wolf and Cub. The visual poetry that defines this series kicks away in high gear, too. While you might be tempted to speed through Kojima’s wordless panels of rivers and trees, you will be richly rewarded by slowing down and spending a little time with them.
And then – tragedy. This is a tragic series, and Wife of the Heart may be one of its most tragic episodes. Some readers may take offense with the images and situations in this story. If you are easily upset, you should surf away from here right now and go watch golf or something. Lone Wolf and Cub deals with intractably painful aspects of human existence, the consequences of our decisions, and the lengths we go to in pursuit of fates either chosen or assigned. Itto and son walk “the path of the demon,” and it’s not a path you may be prepared to walk with them.
But yes, this is a love story, too. Kind of.
The 28 digest-format Dark Horse books are a great value and continue all the way to the end of the series. First’s top-notch production was cut off after 45 issues, which covers roughly the first third of the series.