In Review: Usagi Yojimbo #155

A murder mystery with political and supernatural overtones. Highest possible recommendation.

The cover: Miyamoto Usagi draws one of his swords, hearing something behind him, which is another man’s blade which can be seen in the background. Inspector Ishida knees before the ronin. A dead body has the intelligent man’s attention. An excellent tease of what’s to come from Stan Sakai’s artwork and Tom Luth’s colors. This is a fairly quiet cover for Usagi, but given that this is only the opening installment of a three part story, some calm can be expected. Overall grade: A 

The story: This is an incredibly dramatic opening for the first part of “The Secret of the Hell Screen.” A storm rages as an unhappy frog makes it way through the forest. It’s surprised by a hungry tokage, which chomps down on the amphibian. However, before it can begin its meal a man comes rushing out of the foliage startling the lizard who releases its prey. The man is terrified as he bolts through the forest, checking behind him to be sure he’s not being followed. He slides down a hill but makes a misjudgment and stumbles hard to the ground. He rises, panting, trying to take a moment to regain his strength. A sound draws his attention. “N–No…Please…Enma…” And then something startling happens. Many movies wish they could capture the tension that Stan Sakai starts this with. The scene then moves to Usagi, who arrives at a location and encounters something that is unusual. He soon meets with old friend Inspector Ishida and learns why the man is at a specific location: There’s a case being investigated and Usagi is asked for assistance as his insight would be appreciated. One unique quality in the deceased has a shocking appearance that introduces the title character and the reader to the screen of the story’s title. The impact of the artistic creation on Usagi is great, and so is the appearance of a character on 15 who quickly elevates himself to Suspect #1. A historical mystery is always entertaining to read and Sakai is building the list of suspects and possible motivations in this issue. How and why they relate to the Hell Screen is yet to be revealed, but there are two more installments before Usagi and Ishida learn the truth, if they survive. Excellent tension and mystery. Overall grade: A+

The art: The first five pages of the book start with an incredibly tense chase, culminating in a shocking event. Stan Sakai, the artist, does a tremendous job creating such a thrilling reading experience. The first page has only two panels: the dominant image is of a storm that’s causing the trees to bend from the strong winds, and the second panel gives a preview of the location that will cause so much consternation for the rabbit. The second page shows the hapless frog captured by the lizard, the eyes on the former being wonderfully comical. When the first victim appears startling the two animals look at how Sakai gives the creatures a three dimensional appearance by using a thick line to outline them, making them seem much closer to the reader. The frantic man’s journey is an emotional one, as the terror on his face makes his predicament sympathetic to the reader. The final four panels on Page 5 were a shock as to what’s done and how it’s shown, with the final panel being unsettling. Usagi’s first appearance is dramatic as he’s coated in the rain water. His glare on 8 is fantastic. Even better was his complete change in feeling and appearance when Ishida appears. The mono-browed inspector emotes fantasically on the page with just a raise of the eyebrows or a smile on his face. The real achievement of the story is the Hell Screen, which is never fully seen. Not showing it forces the reader to interpret it based on the characters’ reactions, and it’s obviously a horror. Using a ultra thin line to illustrate what is shown on the creation makes it seem otherworldly, which is exactly as it should be. The visuals on this book are always a treat to pour over and over again. Overall grade: A+

The letters: Also doing the lettering, Stan Sakai creates the story’s title, the sounds of the frog and lizard, a questioning sound, sounds, dialogue, yells, and the tease for next issue. The story’s title is beautiful to look at and the questioning nonverbal sound made by the lizard in the final panel on Page 2 is so cool. It’s only a question mark, but it looks amazing. Another awesome element of the lettering is that when the animals make sounds their dialogue appears in square dialogue balloons, as opposed to the humans’ in the regular ovals. Sakai rocks the lettering. Overall grade: A+

The back cover: A li’l Usagi carries an enormous bottle of “Fizzy Pop” on the back cover by Stan Sakai and Julie Fujii Sakai. The character is cute and the colors are warm. I’m surprised this image isn’t sold as a print or as a sticker. Overall grade: A

The final line: A murder mystery with political and supernatural overtones. What’s not to like? Highest possible recommendation. 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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