There are few comics as dependable as “Usagi Yojimbo” for bringing high quality comics to the reader, and with the latest issue it’s another reminder that Sakai is one of the best modern cartoonists working.
In a new one-off story, Sakai’s samurai once more encounters Kitsune, the trickster woman whose schemes are never quite foolproof and more often than not needs Usagi to save her skin for when things go sour. One of the things that works so well about Sakai’s Kitsune stories is that they’re not overly judgmental. Sure, Kitsune is a bit of a con artist, and Usagi clearly disapproves of her tricks and ideas to make a living. But instead of ending each Kitsune story with her being thrown in jail, Sakai recognizes the appeal of the character and that it’s just as likely the reader is cheering for her to succeed, not fail. So while Kitsune is clearly defrauding the people of the town by selling her toad oil (a nod to the old “snake oil salesmen” of the past), part of the big question for both old and new readers alike will be if Kitsune is going to be left holding the bag of money or not once the dust settles.
Usagi himself has more of a minor role this issue, which suits him well. While he brings a sense of morality to the comic, it’s apt that Kitsune is stealing the spotlight this month, trying to delegate Usagi to a supporting position in his own comic. Still, without Usagi’s presence the story would have ended much differently (and almost certainly on a grim note) so it’s just the right balance between the two characters.
There’s also a good sense of humor here, from the over-acting of Kitsune and her new conspirators, to the end of the comic itself. Sakai’s able to handle both silly and serious in the comic, and it’s always a pleasure to see him mix the two moods into a single issue. After all, this is a comic where the three thugs are visually modeled (without being overly in your face) on the Three Stooges. It’s a good reminder, without going to either extreme, of what you can expect with “Usagi Yojimbo.”
My one complaint has nothing to do with the issue itself, but rather the distance between it and the last collection, which reprinted up through #109. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for a new reader to catch up to the new issues, so to speak, and that seems like a bad business decision. Please, Dark Horse, maybe two collections for 2011? I suspect that would bridge enough of the gap that it wouldn’t look so daunting. Still, no matter what, just so long as you keep publishing “Usagi Yojimbo” that’s a good move in my book. As always, great stuff.