We review the SDCC Exclusive preview comic and get hyped for the Rabbit Ronin's Dark Horse Comics revival.
As discussed during our conversation with Julie Sakai and Stan Sakai, our top priority at San Diego Comic-Con International was acquiring the Usagi Yojimbo Ice and Snow exclusive preview comic. Happy to report, we nabbed the issue from the Dogu Publishing booth first thing on Preview Night (and had a lovely, in-person chat with Julie and Stan too). Even happier to report the comic is everything and more than what we were hoping for in terms of quality and as a jumping-on point for new readers.
Ice and Snow picks up almost immediately after The Green Dragon storyline, the final chapter published under IDW. Miyamoto Usagi and his cousin Yukichi trudge through the mountains while a blistery winter storm threatens to freeze them to death. They are not alone. Eyes are upon them while other eyes seek to find them. To say any more would threaten to spoil the surprise, and considering most folks won't be able to read this issue until its official release on 9/27, I dare not say too much.
As with all Stan Sakai comics, if you've never read an Usagi Yojimbo issue, you can jump on board with this one and have zero comprehension problems. There is no other cartoonist as new reader friendly as Stan Sakai. The ease in which he introduces characters and concepts is masterful and nearly invisible. If only others cared as much about fresh eyes as he...alas.
Next year, Usagi Yojimbo will celebrate its fortieth anniversary. I can't remember a world without the comic. Considering Sakai's seemingly ubiquitous presence in the industry, it's surprising whenever I find comic readers who still need to read his work. We (I) take Usagi Yojimbo for granted, and Sakai has tremendous opportunities for discovery and growth.
It's exhilarating to witness Usagi Yojimbo return to Dark Horse Comics, now in partnership with Julie and Stan Sakai's Dogu Publishing imprint. I first started reading Usagi Yojimbo when Dark Horse published it, and while I have great fondness and appreciation for the recent IDW era, the comic never felt at home there. And, based on a few interactions I had with people operating the Dark Horse Comics booth at San Diego, they seem extremely excited to have Sakai's characters back under their umbrella. I can't say whether or not they took him for granted too, but they certainly understand it's better to be in business with one of the great comic book characters than not.
The Comic-Con preview issue is lovingly packaged and presented. Similar to the WhereWhen Retro Edition unveiled at WonderCon, this Ice and Snow features no color, allowing Stan Sakai's inks to strut their stuff. The artist shows no signs of slowing down. If anything, the art is even tighter and more detailed than what we've seen from him recently. As much as I marvel over Sakai's action sequences and how he pushes Usagi's blades through bandits, I'm even more impressed by the nature and architecture surrounding our rabbit ronin. We're at a point where we might forgive Sakai for cheating a background, but the cartoonist refuses to cheat himself.
Ice and Snow feels like a moment. A new number one is always an invitation. The die-hard Usagi Yojimbo readers are coming; we're a given, but here's a chance to absorb numerous newbies. With proper support, the issue could achieve that, and based on what we see from Dark Horse, the comic is getting some hefty publisher love. In September, they're rolling out the red carpet with several rad variant covers and retailer exclusives from the likes of Scottie Young, Paolo Rivera, David Mack, Bill Morrison, Aaron Bartling, Deth Phimmasone, and Stan Sakai.
Ice and Snow is a perfect Usagi Yojimbo comic. Miyamoto stumbles into a situation demanding action; while initial threats are easily vanquished, larger threats prove far more challenging and allow the samurai to showcase his philosophy and character. Sakai continues to build the dynamic between Miyamoto and Yukichi, a partnership, unlike other couplings we've seen through the years. Clearly, Miyamoto has much to offer Yukichi, but maybe Yukichi has quite a bit to offer Miyamoto.
The Comic-Con exclusive ends with another preview, eight pages taken from the upcoming Space Usagi one-shot Yokai Hunter, which bridges the main series and the sci-fi offshoot. What's going on? Hard to say, but there's enough in those eight pages to suggest a heavy influence from Bruce Lee's final film, Game of Death. So, yeah, hard not to be excited by the thought of Miyamoto Usagi working his way up a similar pagoda plot structure. Eager for more as soon as possible.
Quickie Review: Usagi Yojimbo is back at Dark Horse Comics - hurray! Ice and Snow should grab lots of new readers, and for old readers, it establishes a possible payoff for certain characters we've been obsessing over for years. Stan Sakai is better than ever, and again, he's delivered us a perfect comic. 10/10
Usagi Yojimbo: Ice and Snow #1
Writer: Stan Sakai
Artist: Stan Sakai
Letterer: Stan Sakai
Colorist: HiFi Colour Design
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics/Dogu Publishing
Cover Price: $4.99
On Sale: 9/27
Plot Synopsis: Usagi and Yukichi are still in the snowy mountaintops of Northern Japan, following Stan Sakai's Usagi Yojimbo story arc, "The Green Dragon." They are led to the hut of a strange woman hermit who allows them to spend the night. Meanwhile, the maniacal Jei and his familiar, Keiko, are on Usagi's trail when they stumble upon a bandit lair and subdue the band of cutthroats and thieves.
* A new story starring Usagi Yojimbo and the new character, his cousin, Yukichi!
* Follows directly after the story The Green Dragon.