In Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #1

Every aspect of this book is outstanding. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: Atop a galloping horse, Usagi uses both hands to raise his katana high with a scream as several arrows speed towards him. This is an expected image for the samurai genre, but artist Stan Sakai makes this frontpiece incredibly moving by the point of view he’s chosen: Usagi is racing right at the reader as the arrows come at him from all sides. It’s as if the reader is the poor archer trying to take this hero down. Sakai has also created some strong movement with his illustration having Usagi’s ears flapping behind him, his mount’s hooves in a blur, and the dust and debris in the horse’s wake. The number of arrows whizzing at the protagonist also contribute well to the action. Tom Luth’s colors make Usagi and his horse the absolute focal point by giving the character an orange background, allowing his white and blue colors to pop out. I love this cover. Overall grade: A+

The story: A lovely rural setting is disrupted by two charging horses and their riders. They are rushing to the city gate where they are stopped by a pair of guards. The two sentries welcome the arrival of the men, as their duty has been monotonous. The riders are in a rush to get inside, with one man being very agitated and the other worried. Seeing that the riders’ papers are in order the gate is opened and they race their horses inside, narrowly missing trampling the guards. Four more riders appear in the distance (I don’t know if it was intentional, but four ominous riders have wonderful symbolism) making for the city and the gates are quickly closed. When the guards demand to see the four horsemen’s credentials, one man produces a disc that shocks them. The pair scream for the gate to be opened and the four horsemen race into the city to find their prey. This exciting opening doesn’t let up for several pages as the chase continues through the city streets. The identities of those being chased and those in pursuit aren’t revealed for several pages, increasing the mystery of why this chase is occurring. Stan Sakai keeps this chase going for a long time and it’s great. I enjoy when writers can capture a reader’s attention without needing to insert the title character immediately in the story. In fact, Usagi doesn’t appear until Page 17 of this tale. When he does appear he comes into contact with a guard who requires him, and all the citizens of the city, to do something before he can proceed on his journey. Usagi complies, as it’s nothing that brings him any problems, and he’s soon greeted by his friend Inspector Ishida. This incredibly enjoyable character has been in several issues of the previous series and I’m always glad to see him appear in Usagi’s exploits. The inspector tells Usagi about a change in the city and asks him to accompany him to the scene of a crime. It is in the final two pages that the characters and the reader learns what’s going on and it’s great. This is an incredibly interesting premise for this series. Sakai includes on the inside back flap some story notes that influenced this tale. I’m hooked for more. Overall grade: A+

The art: Stan Sakai doesn’t only write good stories, he draws them. This issue is incredibly cinematic. The issue begins with a low point of view, focusing on a tokage that views the approaching horsemen and almost trample the poor creature. Sakai shows the men’s faces, instantly capturing for the reader what their emotions are as they are trying to escape. Notice how when one of the men speaks with the guards, his horse is anxiously moving, stressing it wants to continue to move, keeping the visual tension high. The pair’s entrance into the city is intense, with them looking determined, the horses frantic, and the guard surprised. The chase through the city is terrific. Sakai not only does characters well, his settings are always intricately detailed. As this book is in black and white, he uses crosshatching amazingly to create different tones in his work and to create sinister, shadowy places. Page 9 features a character’s death. It’s not graphic, but is definite. I was surprised by the second panel’s illustration, leaving me momentarily thinking this character had been given a respite, but the third panel contained Sakai’s delightfully dark designations of death that Usagi’s adventures have always had. Page 10 has some terrific perspective shots (no pun intended), with the final image on the page being just flat out cool. I also like that when a character is in the foreground of an image, Sakai uses a thicker line to show the reader that the proximity of the character is close; this is done in the first two panels on 13 and throughout the book. I also like that the further the characters are from the reader, the looser they become, this is often done as well, but is really masterfully done on 17 as the point of view pulls away from Usagi to show him surrounded by people on the go. There’s a neat little gag in the bottom panel on that page with a child who’s taken something he shouldn’t have. Inspector Ishida has a marvelously designed face, with the emotions he shows flat out fantastic: note how he’s friendly when first shown approaching Usagi, then becomes a bit frail looking as they speak, but when noticing a guard on 21 his anger is strong and he is youthful. In seven pages Sakai has shown this character to have a wonderful range. The final two pages of the book show Usagi and Ishida looking intense, then stunned by what they discover. The visuals convey to the reader the magnitude of their discovery. Sakai’s art always is a wonder to look upon. Overall grade: A+

The letters: In addition to the writing and the art, Stan Sakai is also the book’s letterer. He’s responsible for this book’s tokage noises, sounds, dialogue, and yells. I enjoy looking at text that’s as visually engaging as the story it’s telling. Right out of the gate, Sakai uses a unique shaped balloon for the tokage’s sounds, separating it from other characters’ speech. The yells between the riders and the guards is in a font that’s thicker and bolder than normal dialogue, visually cluing the reader into the strength the words are delivered. However, these yells aren’t the loudest of the book, for there are blood curdling screams on 6, 8, and 11 that are primal. The sounds in this book are also in many different fonts, from thin for arrows and thick for falls. Sakai proves that lettering is an art form. Overall grade: A+ 

The final line: An excellent entry point for Usagi’s exploits that begins with a fantastic chase. Every aspect of this book is outstanding and you’d be hard pressed to find a series that is consistently this wonderful. Highest possible recommendation. Overall grade: A+

To order a print copy go to https://www.tfaw.com/Comics/Profile/Usagi-Yojimbo-The-Hidden-1___561782?utm_source=darkhorse&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=darkhorse_buy&utm_term=buy+Usagi+Yojimbo%3A+The+Hidden+%231

To order a digital copy go to https://www.comixology.com/Usagi-Yojimbo-The-Hidden-1/digital-comic/626969?ref=c2VhcmNoL2luZGV4L2Rlc2t0b3Avc2xpZGVyTGlzdC90b3BSZXN1bHRzU2xpZGVy

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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