In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #162

The mystery deepens with the characters having to team up to solve a double murder.

The cover: Using a torch like a flashlight, Inspector Ishida follows the path of blood on the ground. Behind him is Usagi, his hand to his sword, ready to pull it loose should they encounter danger. The surprising third member of this trio is Kitsune, terrified of someone whose shadow is on the wall behind them. They are trying to discover the identity of the person who murdered the man whose house she was stealing from. Having the characters positioned as they are, the reader can see the leads clearly and identify their demeanors, with Kitsune having a wonderfully comedic, yet honest, look upon her face. I’ve said this before, but it always deserves repeating, Stan Sakai is not only a superior character artist, his settings are second to none. Look at the buildings that surround the characters: they are fantastic! The colors by Tom Luth are also stellar. The blues in the characters’ clothing make them pop up against the brown buildings, but it’s the lantern’s beam and the blood it finds that really draws the reader’s eyes. Sakai and Luth are a dynamic duo of comic book covers. Overall grade: A+ 

The story: This issue is the second and concluding chapter of “The Body in the Library”, written by Stan Sakai. Assistant Muro reveals to Inspector Ishida and Usagi that the box that is supposed to contain foreign medicines is empty. Ishida tells Muro that he knew both murdered men, Taro and his father. The assistant reveals that Taro had gambling debts, suggesting that is why the man has been murdered. Muro leaves with two officers to go to police headquarters while Ishida and Usagi search the crime scene. Usagi quickly notices something about the dead man’s body, sparking both men to make some conclusions about the killings. As they continue to postulate possible reasons for the deaths, the scene moves outside where little Kiyoko is near the police barracks where her mentor Kitsune is being held, accused of killing Muro’s father. A group walks up to the headquarters, prompting the little thief to hide herself better. Sakai then goes within the building, to show what’s happening to Kitsune. This two page sequence is wonderful, with the final panel on 6 gold. I really like the individual that she speaks with on these pages. Page 9 reunites several characters, with Usagi’s verbal reactions hilarious. A pair of recurring characters delightfully reappear at the top of 10, with the dialogue on 10 smile inducing. There’s a great trigger for who is responsible for the killings, leading to a slick confrontation, with Usagi in a perilous situation. This mystery is solved dramatically, the characters part, each thinking them superior to the other. I couldn’t help but smile at this conclusion. The inside back cover contains the second chapter of “Chibi Usagi and the Goblin of Adachi Plain” co-created by Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai, Chibi U. hears the tale of an individual gone mad. The conflict in the story is funny, but becomes masterfully silly with the third panel. This, too, is incredibly fun to read. Overall grade: A+

The art: Illustrated by Stan Sakai, the first three pages show Usagi and Ishida investigating the scene of the most recent murder, which is set in a room that’s been tossed by the killer, with the body of the victim present. The reaction of Muro is the first image encountered in this book, and it’s the perfect visual hook for a reader, who will undoubtedly ask why this character is so shocked. Notice that Usagi shares the surprise, but the unflappable Ishida eyes Muro as he silently considers the man’s speech and actions. The large panel on Page 1 shows the messy room, the body (whose head is at a horrific angle, matching its frightening open eyes), and all the characters present. There’s so much going on, but Sakai makes it easy to navigate all this by placing the characters and items in an arc that travels left to right — so smooth! Page 4 shows Kiyoko outside the police station. Take note how the positioning of her in the first panel makes her visible to the reader, but with a change in point of view in the second panel, Sakai shows how she can easily hide from others: the cross hatching is outstanding. Kitsune is the scene stealer of this book. She is fabulous on 5 and 6, with her turning her charm on and off incredibly. The pair of characters on 10 and 11 make the humor in the dialogue so much fun. The characters’ moods go back and forth between serious and humorous, continuing to make me smile as I write this review. The action that began at the bottom of 15 made me gasp, and the battle that followed was outstanding. I’ve got to give major kudos to Sakai for the second panel on 18 — perfection! The background at the top of 20 was also well done, looking like nothing I’ve seen Sakai do before. The smiles on the characters on 21 and 22 are also perfection. I love the self-satisfaction the characters have, and the posing of the individuals in final panel on the last page is absolute joy. The Chibi Usagi art by the Sakais is cute on several different levels, thanks to the concerned look in the first panel, the frustration in the second, and the anger in the third. Cute and cool. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Dialogue, the story’s title, yells, and sounds are also created by the busy Stan Sakai. The dialogue is always crisp and clear to read, with some words bolded and/or put in italics to show the stress in the characters’ voices. I really like that the dialogue gets larger when characters are tense or angry and become massive in the battle. The story’s title does look too small for the box that contains it, as there’s a goodly amount of empty space under the Part 2, but this is a minor comment, though it did stand out. Overall grade: A-

The final line: The mystery deepens with the characters having to team up to solve a double murder. Smart storytelling with incredible visuals. And Chibi Usagi, too! It doesn’t get better than this! Overall grade: A

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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