After his long break and far-future "Usagi Yojimbo: Senso" miniseries, Stan Sakai is back writing and drawing his long-running series "Usagi Yojimbo." Don't let the issue number scare you, though; "Usagi Yojimbo" #145 is a good place for a new reader to jump in and discover why Sakai's comic was and continues to be a genuine treasure.
"Usagi Yojimbo" #145 brings back the thief Kitsune, which is a great character for the wandering ronin Usagi to once more encounter. Her motivations are fairly simple -- she steals partially to survive, partially for the thrill - and, while she and Usagi are often at odds, she's by no means a nasty or vicious character. The end result is a fun story, with Kitsune discovering what happens when you're one of two different thieves breaking into an establishment at the same time. Add in poor Usagi accidentally getting tangled up in Kitsune's pickle, and the end result is a fun opening chapter to a story that's part romp, part something a bit more serious.
The latter comes from introducing another old face at the end of the issue. Without spoiling anything, it's a character who is well-suited to this particular storyline, adding in a bit of an edge to situations that Kitsune herself doesn't have. That's a good thing; it ups the proverbial ante for all of the characters involved, and it also keeps the momentum building. Adding in a new obstacle at the end of the issue keeps the storytelling (or the reader) from growing complacent. At the same time, it's not all danger in "Usagi Yojimbo" #145. Watching both Usagi and Kitsune interact with Kitsune's ward Kiyoko is a lot of fun; she brings out the best in both of them, and their ease with her (and vice versa) goes a long way towards reminding us that these aren't just a warrior and a thief, but genuine people. We get to see more of their personalities than just their professions here.
Sakai's art is solid and strong as ever. Moments like Usagi slamming open the door to yell at Kitsune are great; you can almost see the movement thanks to the little wisp of air moving as he does so, plus the way Sakai draws Usagi leaning up against the other side of the doorframe. Add in an angry scowl on his face and this is an image that has enough strength that another artist might have made it an entire splash image. I love the faces of Sakai's characters in general; they might have animal heads, but they're just as expressive. Kitsune's perplexed face as she gazes at the stolen painting sells her lack of understanding of why the other thief wanted it so badly, for example, and Usagi's face switching off of anger when Kitsune calls him out on his fake snarling is actually somewhat adorable. Add in careful drawings of buildings and streets from this earlier era of Japan, and the whole package comes together as a whole.
It's been too long since we've had a regular issue of "Usagi Yojimbo" and, hopefully, there won't be any future delays down the line. Existing readers have a reason to celebrate; new readers have a reason to finally try out this multiple-award-winning series. Jump on board and, trust me, you'll be happy you did.