Here’s one of the (many) things I like about “Usagi Yojimbo:” Creator Stan Sakai can introduce a character for a single story, come back to that character over 120 issues later, and still make the new comic seem fresh and easily accessible.
In the case of “Usagi Yojimbo,” it’s a return of a character that last appeared in “Usagi Yojimbo” #11, a wandering ronin who claims to be able to see the moment of death in people’s eyes. Sakai opens the comic with a flashback story regarding an encounter some 40 years earlier between a group of men and the Lord of Owls, who slaughtered all but one and then calmly walked away. And with that, having established the Lord of Owls’ modus operandi, we jump to Usagi’s own time and (unsurprisingly) his own new encounter with the Lord amidst a mountain pass and a group of bandits disguised as priests.
Sakai always assumes that his readers might be new (or even if they aren’t, don’t remember a one-off character from over a decade ago) but doesn’t insult our intelligence at the same time. Exposition is always presented gently, making it part of the narrative and often having Usagi learn ab out the piece of information at the same time we do. Plus, of course, he brings in action sequences, mystery, and even a little twist or two at the end. It’s a tightly written story that doesn’t require you to have ever read another “Usagi Yojimbo” comic to still enjoy the final product.
And of course, Sakai’s an excellent artist. From the jovial looks of those at the party some 40 years earlier, to the grim, methodical way that the Lord of Owls cuts down his victims, it’s drawn excellently and with great emotion and expression. The character design of the Lord of Owls works well too; it’s amazing how something as simple as a reed mask adds to the grim nature of this killer, and how Sakai still manages to make him expressive with little moments like head tilts and his posture.
“Usagi Yojimbo” continues to be a solid and enjoyable comic month after month, and this latest issue is no exception. In a perfect world, everyone would read “Usagi Yojimbo.”