LONE WOLF & CUB OMNIBUS VOL. 1 (Dark Horse, 2013; Softcover)
Collects Lone Wolf and Cub Vols. 1-3
Writer: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
I was wrong. W-R-O-N-G, wrong. My exposure to Manga had been characters drawn with cheesy, large round eyes, cartoony artwork, and borderline pornographic comic books. I dismissed the entire genre as crap, although I have always enjoyed things influenced by Manga, such as Elfquest. Everyone and their brother have raved about this series over the years, urging me to read it, with me always dismissing it because it was Manga. I was in a comic shop with a friend a few years back and he showed me one of the Dark Horse digests of this series, telling me how good it was. I flipped through it and thought that yes, the artwork was quite good, but it was Manga, so no sale. Fast forward to the present day, and Dark Horse solicits an Omnibus of this material. I adore the Dark Horse Omnibus format, which has a generous page count with excellent production values (i.e. nice paper, binding, etc.) at a reasonable price. I was intrigued enough to finally give it a try.
Lone Wolf & Cub takes place in Edo-period Japan (17th century). Ogama Itto gets set up for murder by the clan in order for them to gain control. His toddler son Daigoro is given a choice between a ball or a sword. One is a quick death (the ball), the other is the path to becoming a ronin. Since Daigoro chose the sword, he set out with his father as the Shogun's executioner, traipsing across the Japanese countryside and encountering friends and foes alike. Ogama is a master of the dotanuki sword battle sword. I've got to admit that I've always found ninja/sword stuff to be uber-cheesy, but this is done so well that it transcends any notions or biases that I once had toward them.
The thing that won me over with this book was the quality of the writing as well as the artwork. There is some deft characterization here. Time and again I smirked and shook my head at how clever this story is. The violence is way over the top and fast paced. There is nudity and sex throughout but the book, but it is artfully done and in service to the story rather than appealing to basement dwelling fanboys (term used in the original pejorative). I normally feel embarrassed to read comics that feature nudity and sex because it feels adolescent. This is true “Mature Reader” fare. The plots are both complex and straightforward. Everything is easy to grasp but there is a lot going on in the overall structure of the story, sometimes taking 100 pages to make it's point.
Lone Wolf & Cub was obviously a huge influence on comic books over the past decade or so. While I despise Manga-flavored superhero comics, I adore this book. I despise decompression in modern comics, with pages and pages of little to no text. It seems lazy. This is done in abundance here, but it was A) innovative for the era and B) so well done that the pictures really can do the heavy lifting. Nothing about this seems like they are just filling pages with pretty pictures or padding the page count. The quiet moments are necessary and appropriate for the story. The action sequences, which last for page after page at times, can be confusing. It requires study and repeated viewing in order to fully determine what Ogama Itto is doing, all without the benefit of narrative or dialogue.
And this is reading it with 2013 eyes. This series was originally published in Japan as Kozure Okami in Weekly Manga Action from September, 1970- April, 1976. The US was oblivious to this series until it was published by First Comics beginning in 1987. They only managed to get through a third of the run before going belly up. Dark Horse translated and compiled the entire saga in 28 Graphic Novels, the first three of which are collected in this larger-sized Omnibus edition.
So my decidedly Western taste in comic books has finally met a Manga book that I like. I have been getting more and more into European comic over the past year or two, and now this. It's staggering to think of something as American as the comic book being taken around the world and interpreted and expanded upon with different storytelling “languages”. I am in for the Volume 2, due in August. People keep telling me to read Akira. What do you think, do I owe it to myself to read that too?
Junk Food For Thought rating: 5 out of 5.
The OCD zone- This is not your typical Dark Horse Omnibus. Both the dimensions of the book and the materials used are radically different from the rest of the line. This book measures 2.4 x 5 x 7.1 inches (or 6 x 12.8 x 18 cm for my friends in the Metric system using world outside of the United States) as opposed to the size of the rest of the books in the Dark Horse Omnibus line, which are 1.2 x 5.9 x 9.1 inches (or 3 x 15.9 x 23.5 cm ).
DVD-style Extras included in this book: A 5 page glossary.
Linework restoration rating: ? out of 5. Your guess is as good as mine. I do not have access to the original single issues or the Dark Horse digests for comparison. I see no pixelation or any other defects. I defer to Manga experts on this one.
Paper rating: 4 out of 5. This has a nice thick pulp paper. Manga has traditionally used cheap paper to help keep costs down. That could be why this stuff sells millions of copies in Japan while our American comics are considered hits if they crack the 100k sales mark.
Binding rating: 5 out of 5. This has glued binding, and the spine of the book has a bizarre flexibility to it. It actually rounds inwards when you are reading it. This results in some slight creasing on the spine and marginal inward curve when you're done with the book. This doesn't phase me but will make my OCD homeskillet Ferjo Byroy lay awake at night. There is no creaking of the glue, and there is nice thick band attaching the pages to the cover. It seems highly durable, enough for an OCD 5.
Cardstock cover coating rating: 5 out of 5. This has a dull matte finish but is scuff resistant.