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!
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.