In Review: Usagi Yojimbo: The Hidden #4

If you're not picking up this book, you're missing out on a wonderful reading experience.

The cover: Stan Sakai and Tom Luth have Inspector Ishida and Usagi almost back to back against a wall with their weapons drawn to fight an unseen foe. This creates some good mystery for reader as to whom they are about to fight and also goes along well with the subtitle “The Hidden” of this series. The blues in this cover really bring the reader into the illustration, beginning with the blues in the upper left on the banner that lead to Ishida and then to Usagi. Well done by both artists. Overall grade: A

The story: Usagi and Ishida are trying to protect Oda from a gang of hired thugs who have been sent to kill the three of them. Fearing for his life, Oda runs off from his protectors. The two leads are more than a match for the goons and Ishida puts fear into them when he proclaims, “How dare you draw your swords against an official of the Shogun?!” While the fight continues, little Snitch sees the box that the protagonists are looking for, grabs it, and runs away unseen. Finally, Usagi discovers a way to end this battle, but not without learning some information from one of the attackers. There’s a welcome return of a supporting character on Page 9 who is given a task and an unwelcome return from another character on 10. I love the dialogue in the first two panels on 13, which reinforces the humor and thinking of one character and I cannot get enough of that from this individual. I am always pleased when writer Stan Sakai interjects these brief moments into his dramas. Also enjoyable is how Usagi and Ishida work so well together as exemplified on Pages 15 and 16. Though information is given to advance this story, there is also some solid character work done on an individual on 20, which has me wondering if this won’t cause problems later. I was ecstatic to read Pages 21 – 24 as this was all new to me and offered yet another dimension for a character. The book ends with a great cliffhanger, but I won’t spoil it. This continues to be a strong story due to the mystery and its characters. Overall grade: A+

The art: The first five pages of this book are incredibly impressive for its characters, their actions, and the setting. Artist Stan Sakai always impresses, but to see such a battle on the streets is jaw-dropping. The staging of the fight, the positioning of the characters, and their expressions are incredible. One could spend an incredible amount of time soaking in every element of the panels on these pages. I did. Oda looks amazing before he runs away for the amount of fear he exudes; I felt the man would have a heart attack before he left. Snitch is a wonderfully devious looking character as he makes his grab and dash on 4. Usagi gives his angriest face I’ve ever seen on Page 5. Words should also be spent on the retained thug at the bottom of 5 for his reaction to being grasped by the title character: it is funny and believable. Sakai uses an incredibly thin line when introducing a new location on 9 but one would expect this locale to be much cleaner and neater than where the book began. I like the haggard look of Oda and a character introduced in the last third of the book; though the book is populated by animals, Sakai is still able to make them look shabby when the story deems it necessary. And could anything be cuter than the start of Page 21? (Well, beside Chibi Tomoe at the end of this issue?) All of 21 is visually uplifting from the previous pages dark streets and unsavory characters and makes for a good change of pace in the issue. The final panel of the issue is from a terrific point of view introducing someone of a questionable nature. Overall grade: A+

The letters: The story’s title, dialogue, yells, screams, a tokage’s exclamation, and laughter in this issue are also created by Stan Sakai. I really enjoy when Sakai places certain words in characters’ speech in italics so that the reader can better hear where the stress is placed in the dialogue. I also like the many different levels of yells and screams, with their size and thickness indicating how loud they are. The winner for the cutest dialogue is at the top of 21, with the text making me smile as much as the visual. Overall grade: A+ 

“Chibi Tomoe and the Zo Ninja”: Stan and Julie Fujii Sakai jointly created this tale and it closes out in this issue. The Zo Ninja is looking for a place to hide after accidentally revealing himself to Chibi Tomoe. It’s a quick gag that works well — Yes, I admit to finding it funny. I was sad to see The End after this installment as these quick and cute one pagers have been enjoyable. Overall grade: A+

The final line: Action and mystery with some of the best characters in comics can always be found in Usagi Yojimbo. This is a fun story with beautiful and exciting visuals. If you’re not picking up this book, you’re missing out on a wonderful reading experience. Absolutely recommended. 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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