If I was trapped on a desert island and could only bring one comic series to read, “Vagabond” would be my immediate answer. I’m not kidding, here; Takehiko Inoue’s retelling of the life of Miyamoto Musashi has absolutely everything that I’m looking for in a comic book; adventure, romance, introspection, an ever-developing lead character, villains who are fully three-dimensional people, swordplay, and absolutely gorgeous art. What more can you ask for?
At 28 volumes (and counting), it’s understandable that diving into “Vagabond” might be a little daunting. To help out with your wallet, Viz has added “Vagabond” to its VizBig line, a series of low-priced omnibus editions. So for $19.99, you’re getting the first three volumes of “Vagabond,” which clocks in at over 600 pages. And, oh, what a deal you’re getting.
As “Vagabond” opens, we meet Shinmen Takezo, a hot-headed teen who rushes off to war and manages to pick the losing side. As he and his friend Hon’iden Matahatchi struggle to survive as fugitives, it’s actually a little hard to believe that one day Takezo will become the greatest swordsman alive. But that’s part of what makes “Vagabond” such a great series; we watch the transformation from Takezo into Musashi happen over time, as he goes from a headstrong and naÃ¯ve youth into someone who slowly begins to learn not only how the world works, but his place in it.
I love that Musashi makes a lot of mistakes early on, but also that he eventually learns from them. (I say eventually because he certainly makes the same mistake more than once.) Even at his brashest, there’s always that aura of likeability around him, some sort of natural charisma that seeps off the page towards the reader. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Inoue is one of the most naturally talented artists in comics. Every little detail is painstakingly drawn, from the grain patterns on wooden beams, to individual blades of grass. And when it comes to motion, well, there’s no one else quite like Inoue. All those years of drawing basketball comics in “Slam Dunk” certainly perfected Inoue’s action sequences; the fight scenes have an amazing amount of grace and beauty to them (even when they get a little bloody or brutal), thanks to how well he draws them moving through the air.
“Vagabond” is the one comic book series that I think just about everyone should give a try, and thanks to the new VizBig omnibus, you’re getting such bang for your buck that you absolutely must give it a try. There are comic books, and then there’s “Vagabond.”