Stan Sakai brings his three-part “Those Who Tread on the Scorpion’s Tail” story to a conclusion with this issue, and it’s just as strong as ever. As much as I enjoy Sakai’s single-issue stories, there’s something satisfying about the way he writes and draws a multi-part “Usagi Yojimbo” story, perhaps because of his skill in plotting it out from beginning to end.
In this issue, no plotline is left dangling by story’s end. The truth about the Red Scorpion-both the real one and the fake one-is revealed in a way that is satisfying and makes perfect sense, story-wise. The supporting cast are all given something to do, and everyone plays their part in bringing the sequence of events to a conclusion. Usagi himself is still central, though; just because there are a lot of guest-stars doesn’t mean that he sits back and has it unfold around him.
The best thing about the conclusion to “Those Who Tread on the Scorpion’s Tale,” though, is how Sakai deals with the loss of honor of Sensei Suzuki. When the story began, we were presented with him being an honorable man, one who taught his students not just how to use a sword but also what it meant to be a samurai. It made his fall from grace and his plan to kidnap a child for ransom that much more striking. So when the dust settles, Sakai has made sure to not provide an easy way out for Suzuki. The decision on what to do hasn’t been made for him, and watching Suzuki both own up to his mistakes and then take the proper path of retribution is a satisfying end to the story. It’s a reminder that while Sakai himself is writing and drawing “Usagi Yojimbo” in modern days, this is a story which is set and based upon a much earlier code of honor and behavior. Sakai follows those ideas through to their conclusion.
“Usagi Yojimbo” #138, just like all the issues prior, looks excellent. From the sturdy yet delicate looking buildings lining the street, to the tree-filled forest, backgrounds spring to life and transport you to little pockets of Japan. From there, Sakai makes his characters fit in just as nicely. Every little crosshatch and patterned dot is carefully drawn in, old time lanterns are sketched into place, and of course, the fight scenes are energetic and fluid. When Usagi goes up against his first foe in the opening pages of the comic, it’s more than just two swordsmen smashing swords against one another. They twist, duck, and turn in a manner that’s easy to follow and makes sense on how one is a better duelist than the other. Even the little moments, like the drips of blood from Usagi’s sword after killing an opponent, are carefully drawn and perfectly paced with the rest of the story.
“Usagi Yojimbo” is, as always, a treat from start to finish. There’s a reason why “Usagi Yojimbo” has lasted this long; Sakai is a master storyteller, and it’s a pleasure to read every issue. As always, well done.