Please note also that every Wednesday, I tweet out which issues I picked up that week, and then over the course of the week I send out individual tweets with 140-character reviews of each issue. You can follow me on Twitter here.
Today's subject of New Comics Wednesday is a comic with a semi-historical theme by Dark Horse Comics, entitled 47 Ronin. Issue #4 came out today.
As with all of my comic book overviews, I will attempt to explain what makes this comic interesting without giving away any spoilers. In this case, if you know of the the story of the Revenge of the Forty-Seven Ronin, then you already know the story of the comic, but in case someone out there doesn't know the story, I won't spoil it.
What's It About?
Dark Horse's 47 Ronin, a limited series, is an artistic retelling of the tale of the revenge of the forty-seven ronin, which has been described as "Japan's national legend." The story epitomizes the samurai code of honor, known as bushido.
The events of the revenge of the forty-seven ronin, which took place in the early 18th century, have become a bit of a legend, but the basic plot of the story (both the legend, and this comic on which it is based) is grounded in actual historical events.
Given the subject matter, it's difficult to say more without spoiling any of the story. The plot involves lots of Japanese court intrigue and politics, and particularly focuses on how the code of bushido dictates that certain characters react to those types of situations. It's a fascinating look into another culture from another time.
Who Is the Creative Team?
Writing for 47 Ronin is done by none other than Mike Richardson, the actual founder of Dark Horse Comics. In the first issue, Mike discusses his love of the story and how he's long wished to bring it to life in a comic book format. He's got a strong story to work with, and due to his love and knowledge of the subject matter, he takes his time to set the stage with the first issue or so. One review I read of the title mentioned that it might be better in a collected trade format rather than as single monthly issues, and I can understand that point of view. Things move a bit slowly over the first issue especially, and reading it all collected together might make more sense. That's not a fault of Richardson's writing by any means, but rather just a function of the monthly comic format.
The art is provided by none other than Stan Sakai, an artist known for his comic series creation, Usagi Yojimbo (translated as "rabbit bodyguard"), a tale of Edo-period Japan with anthropomorphic animals replacing the humans. It sounds a bit goofy if you haven't read it, but this isn't a fluffy kids book - it's a compelling look into Japanese culture of the period and it's written for a more mature audience, and Sakai's illustrations include very faithful depictions of the architecture, clothes, and weapons of the period. So, he knows the subject matter intimately well and was the perfect choice to illustrate 47 Ronin. His style has been called "cartoony," but again, don't let that throw you off. There's a level of detail that really helps the reader to immerse himself in the culture of Japan.
Also, a little shout-out to Sakai, who resides in my home town of Pasadena. Go, Crown City!
Who Will Like It?
So, whenever I write this section of these reviews, it should go without saying that people who like comics will like it. That's a given for any of the titles I include in my posts. What I'm trying to do with this section is explain why I think the particular title in question could appeal to someone who doesn't typically read comics, and who that audience might be.
In this case, this is really a well-done historical comic that should appeal to people who are interested in history in general, and of course Japanese history in particular. Folks who enjoy the films of Kurosawa should also appreciate this comic, and anyone interested in the "pop culture" aspects of Japanese culture should pick this up. As stated at the beginning of 47 Ronin (the comic), “To know the story of the 47 Ronin is to know Japan.”
Any Good Fodder For My Role-Playing Games?
Absolutely! This story is a must for people who are playing in Asian-inspired RPGs, or fantasy worlds that have a Japanese equivalent (such as TSR's old Kara-Tur, or the world of Rokugan from Legend of the Five Rings). Too often, I think most role-players simply insert Asian-themed countries into their fantasy worlds without thinking of the ramifications of how those cultures are fundamentally different from their Western counterparts. We simply change the names, add some katanas and monks, and we're done. I played a samurai-inspired character in my friend Cal's long-running game a few years ago, and took quite a few inspirations for my character from the legend of the 47 Ronin. It would've been helpful to have this comic version handy to re-read and help me get into my character's head a bit more.
Is It Good for Kids?
This is a bit of a tough one. I'm going to say a qualified "yes." Really, this is a historical comic and it's an important story, and I think that most mature kids (maybe ages 8+) should be fine with it. That said, as a parent, you'll need to be the judge of what your own kids can handle. It's a samurai-inspired story, so you can expect sword fighting and difficult concepts like the idea of seppuku. It doesn't appear to be rated by the comics code, so again, use what I said as a guide to make your own decision. As always, it's always a good idea to read a comic yourself before giving it to your kids to read.
- Format: Monthly 5-issue limited series 32-page full-color issue
- Where to Buy: Try to buy it at your local comics shop. If you don't have one, try a bookstore or convenience store. You can also buy the digital version on Dark Horse's website. That link leads to the first issue in the series; issue #4 came out today.
- Price: $3.99 per issue
- Rated: Un-rated.
- More Information: The official Dark Hose Site for 47 Ronin
Special Note: Another title came out today that I want to give special attention to for the kids, which is issue #1 of a brand new Sesame Street comic. Somehow, in Sesame Street's storied history, it's never had a comic book before, so this is a cool thing. It's published by Ape Entertainment, and the first issue has a variety of different covers, so make sure to pick the one(s) that will most appeal to your youngsters at home. As a bonus, the first issue also includes the first part of a series called "How to Read a Comic," to help parents who may be unfamiliar with the format teach their kids how to read it. It's a nice touch, and as an added bonus, Ape Entertainment is publishing the "How to Read a Comic" on their website for free. Part 1 of the series is here.
There will also be a free Sesame Street comic available for Free Comic Book Day this Saturday, May 4th, so click over to find the comic shop nearest you that's participating.
Hanging: Home office (laptop)
Drinking: Had a fancy cocktail at dinner with tequila, Campari, and some kind of spice in it
Listening: "Fever (Adam Freeland Remix)" by Sarah Vaughan