Our enthusiasm for Lone Wolf & Cub knows no bounds, so of course we grabbed a copy of Samurai Executioner the first time we saw it. This little paperback from Dark Horse looks and feels like one of their Lone Wolf books, also by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima. In some panels, our protagonist even looks just like Itto Ogami from Lone Wolf, and he pretty much has the same job. But, without young Daigoro and the evil Yagyu clan defining this book, the creators can indulge their love for a good samurai tale with different kinds of plot lines.
This creative team’s productions draw on Japanese history and culture from before the time Tokyo was established. At the time of these stories, that city was Edo.
This paperback collects five sequential “issues” of Samurai Executioner in more than 330 pages.
Koike and Gojima seem to delight in wringing the maximum emotional drama from each scene. No one in these stories merely has a rough day. One can easily see how these manga classics affected Frank Miller’s approach to comics with their over-the-top intensity, excessive violence, and no-holds-barred confrontations with total trauma. Take the opening sequence, for example.
Our main character begins the tale in a sexual interlude with a prostitute. They share a tender moment, and we learn he has to execute someone the next day as a kind of job interview. Well, guess who they bring in to get the old slice-and-dice? That’s right. The woman our samurai was just mating with the night before. Ugh.
Our samurai mans up and chops her head off, but he whispers to her that the execution has been cancelled. She breathes a sigh of relief, free from any more worry or suffering. And then CHOP! This moment of mercy irritates the guys at the job interview, who remind him that suffering is part of the punishment he should mete out for them. What dicks!
Compared to that job interview, the samurai executioner’s first day on the job doesn’t seem so bad. He gets dispatched to deal with some raving lunatic who has taken a nice young girl hostage. Koike and Gojima take us inside the madness in rather disturbing scenes where the captor forces his hostage to sustain him with her urine. They also gave us horrifying urinations in Lone Wolf, when the poisoner routinely drank the urine of the drug-addicted whores in his employ.
Now, we’re not really big fans of drinking pee, but a human could reasonably chug a shot of it without much emotional trauma. But in Samurai Executioner, it’s pretty much your worst nightmare in hell, an act performed at the hostile mercy of some psychotic sicko. Maybe they need to consider adding a chaser!
So, between the decapitated hookers and the pee-guzzling antagonists, between the merciless mayhem and mandatory mutilations, Samurai Executioner managed to completely blow our minds. Even knowing the story doesn’t prevent us from some amount of shock every time we re-read it.
If you want some light-hearted family-friendly entertainment, this is not the book for you. If you get your kicks from action movies with hardcore heroes and utterly twisted villains, buy Samurai Executioner in paperback! Or, see if you can grab the new Samurai Executioner Omnibus in May 2014 from Dark Horse! The first omnibus will collect the first three paperback volumes!
Frank Frazetta became the definitive Conan artist on the strength of his painted book covers. Dark Horse reprinted some of the stories from its modern Conan series with several well-known Frazetta paintings as covers.
This high-quality production with painterly art from the regular series collects complete tales. The trade paperback reprints give readers the complete series, but this Frazetta limited series captures many of the best.
Omnibus collectors can find the first 50 issues collected in a single binding as the Colossal Conan Hardcover. At a whopping 1,264 pages, it usually costs between $120 and $150.
Let’s have a look at these great Frazetta covers and some of the interior artwork.
Conan fans may recognize several of these stories from earlier Marvel versions. Some of them – like Rogues in the House and Black Colossus – enjoyed an oversize printing as Marvel Treasury Editions. You can easily find those earlier Marvel gems reprinted in paperback form as the Chronicles of Conan, recolored, by Dark Horse Comics. Dark Horse continued their Marvel reprints in another set of paperbacks, the Chronicles of King Conan.
One of Concrete’s more traumatizing moments comes when his strange body begans to change in ways he can’t explain. It starts with little horns growing out of his forehead. He keeps them under control with a belt sander for a while, but soon his entire body gets out of control. It’s an interesting story, and Paul Chadwick uses the strange growths as a visual element, too. Below you’ll see a page from the story in Concrete #7 and the back cover of Concrete #6.
In the sixth issue of Concrete, our cement superstar takes a break from his adventures to help out a struggling family on a farm. With his incredible strength and endurance, he plows fields, builds aqueducts, clears land, and more. The character interaction is especially strong in this story. And, Chadwick gives Concrete plenty of room to explore ideas about sustainable agriculture – a subject you don’t see covered in comic books very often!
Concrete was not only a writer but an avid reader. (And a thinker, too, despite his rugged appearance!) We like this drawing by Paul Chadwick of Concrete at home, in his modified chair, enjoying a good book.
Below that, we included a page from one of the short stories in Dark Horse Presents. Concrete and his friend visit a man with an impressive art collection and library – including an entire room full of bagged and boarded comic books, perfectly filed.
Wouldn’t you love to spend a few weeks in there? Also, the man has a secret room with cool paintings that capture Concrete’s imagination. And what guy doesn’t like the idea of having his own secret cave?
– From Concrete #10; Dark Horse, 1988 and Dark Horse Presents #66.
– Concrete #10 reprinted in Concrete TPB #2 and Complete Concrete
– Short story reprinted in Concrete Complete Short Stories 1986-1989 TPB
Concrete began in the pages of the first volume of Dark Horse Presents as a series of short stories. Many of the plots involved the fact that Concrete was a writer before his strange metamorphosis. These naturalistic pages come from a simple story about Concrete having to sleep in the desert while his human companions stop to sleep at a hotel. We love the attention Paul Chadwick gives to the animals in the story, using them as a framing motif for a potrait of Concrete under the night sky.
The back cover of Concrete #9 shows Concrete’s last visit to his elderly mother. Notice that the point of view is from his mother in the bed, and that she is reflected in the mirror over Concrete’s shoulder. Paul Chadwick managed to make the story moving while working in some lighter comedic moments about how difficult it is for Concrete to get around unnoticed. This story serves as a good example of the deep humanism shaping this series.
Speak of the Devil is a six-issue series by Gilbert Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame. The story begins with a peeping tom prowling the neighborhood while wearing a devil mask. The pervert turns out to be a promising young gymnast spying on the bedroom antics of her stepmother and father. She eventually gets a male friend involved. They uncover a web of secrets they will soon wish they had not.
Love and Rockets fans will recognize some characters, but it isn’t necessary to have a history with L&R to jump on board and enjoy this unusual story. We’ve included a few pages to whet your appetite.
For the first nine issues of Concrete, Paul Chadwick used the back covers for artwork giving readers a sneak peek at the next issues’s theme. What to do for the final issue? Here, Chadwick depicts Concrete taking a meditative moment in a lush forest. Part of the joy of reading Concrete is moments like these, where Chadwick illustrates the plants and animals of nature.
The final issue of Concrete’s ongoing title was by no means the end. Chadwick switched to a limited series format for subsequent Concrete stories. The longer form allowed him to expand more deeply into Concrete’s world and life. You can find them individually or as Volumes #3-7 of the Concrete TPB. We highly recommend them all!
In issues #8-9 of Concrete, our rocky hero tackles Mount Everest and undertakes a humanitarian mission to dam an alpine river for a village. It’s one of our favorite Concrete stories, and the artwork is brilliant. In our gallery today you can see the back cover of #7, the front of #9, and a page with Concrete’s triumphant moment atop Everest. Don’t worry, it doesn’t spoil the story to know he makes it. Many exciting twists of fate await you if you climb with Concrete!
If you got stuck in a nearly invulnerable body with incredible strength, endurance, and eyesight, what would you do? Dress up in tights? Doubtful! No, you’d want to see the world and have adventures! In the second issue of Concrete, Chadwick’s creation tackles one of many heroic feats – swimming across the Atlantic Ocean! Of course in Concrete’s world, things never turn out like he expects… Below, you’ll see the back cover of issue #1 showing Concrete swimming among the sea life.
– From the back cover of Concrete #1; Dark Horse, 1987.
Full story appears in Concrete #2
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.
Get ready for more city-smashing artwork from Dark Horse’s 6-issue Godzilla series in 1988. The artwork has a crisp, dynamic manga feel to it. And, the Godzilla carnage is relentless. Also, it has the giant creepy bugs that infested the Godzilla 1985 movie. It is, without a doubt, our favorite Godzilla comic book series ever published. Nothing like the fresh taste of a nuclear reactor for breakfast!
– From Godzilla; Dark Horse, 1988.
Someday, they’ll make a Godzilla comic where Godzilla actually wins. Put the right art team on that bad boy and we’ll buy two copies! Until then, we can enjoy our favorite Godzilla series of all time – from Dark Horse. Rock these samples of city-smashing artwork from Dark Horse’s 6-issue Godzilla series in 1988.
– From Godzilla; Dark Horse, 1988.
Dystopic, post apocalyptic future? Check. Girls kissing in punk rock gear? Check. A$$ Kicking? Check. Tattoed mutant brothers living in a vandalized World Trade Center with a massive stockpile of weed? Check. Guy eating cockroaches? Dudes hacking off dude’s limbs and feeding them to rats? One totally stacked mama running a vicious gang of leather clad boy toys who kill on command? Check, Check, Check!
What’s there NOT to like about Zero Killer?!? Arvid Nelson put together a monumental adventure story with complex characters in this hugely under-rated Dark Horse 6-issue series. Matt Camp illustrated Zero Killer in what we consider his finest moment, his recent DC appearances notwithstanding. And you know what? The one wraparound cover even features dinosaur skulls! It’s like they made this one just for us.
Dig this wraparound cover and some bold splash panels of bad guys and girls!
John Byrne is working on a new Next Men series now, published by IDW. It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Byrne wrote and drew what we consider his masterpiece: the original Next Men. Dig this seven-page irradiated love scene from issue #9. We didn’t know mutates did that! “Fascinating!”
Words can’t describe how much we love this series. Fitting, because there are no words in these books! Just dinosaurs, dinosaurs, dinosaurs. YES!
Dig this scene of carnage from the first issue of the first Age of Reptiles limited series, plus a gorgeous wrap-around cover from the second series Age of Reptiles: The Hunt.
Having a hard time finding all the single issues in stock? You must check out the Age of Reptiles Omnibus! Collects Age of Reptiles (1993) #1-4, Age of Reptiles: The Hunt (1996) #1-5 and Age of Reptiles: Journey (2009 Dark Horse) #1-4.
Rock dinosaur comics in our Dinosaur Comic Books Gallery!
Dark Horse Presents is where Frank Miller’s Sin City and Paul Chadwick’s Concrete first appeared, among other things. DHP also featured licensed properties like Aliens and Predator. For an anthology title, it had some pretty great moments. Let’s take a look at one of our favorite short stories. It has a theme you know we love: giant spiders!
– From Dark Horse Presents.