Writer: Ron Marz
Artist: Luke Ross, Rob Schwager (colors)
Publisher: Dark Horse
EDITOR’S NOTE: The first issue of the 2nd volume of Samurai: Heaven and Earth will appear in stores on November 15.
Caryn A. Tate:
It’s refreshing to read a new samurai comic book, especially an American one, and feel that the creators get it right. Though it’s not the best samurai tale I’ve read, overall I thoroughly enjoyed it.
This tale surrounds Shiro, a samurai from 18th century Japan, on a quest to rescue Yoshiko, the woman he loves. She was kidnapped in Japan by a Chinese warlord named Hsiao, then sold into slavery. Now Shiro has followed her trail all the way to Spain, where he enlists the unwilling help of the slave trader who originally sold Yoshiko into slavery to pinpoint exactly where she is so that he can bring her home.
The nice thing about this story is that it feels just how an adventure should feel—exciting, engaging, with plenty of action, and enough characterization that I have begun to get a real sense for who Shiro really is. It truly has the ambiance of a classic swashbuckling adventure. Because of the great diversity and scope of the comic book medium, I can’t help feeling that this type of story is way too rare in this industry.
The flow of the script and the storytelling is fluid, indeed the way it should be; at times I almost forgot that I was reading a story because it all feels so vivid. Plus, unlike some period pieces, the dialogue here aids this atmosphere in that it feels natural and unaffected.
There is a fair amount of violence and blood in issue #1, and this seems to be one of many nods this comic makes to its influences—the original Japanese manga samurai stories, samurai film, etc. It works well, but it’s also really nice to know that the creators have done their homework and obviously have a love for the genre.
Both the pencils and the colors here are alluring and effective. Mr. Ross’ pencils display a great deal of emotion and almost elegant movement and action. The panel layouts are simple, but combined with Mr. Marz’s storytelling, this issue feels quite a bit like a great action film. Mr. Schwager’s colors flatter the pencils very well, and they really highlight shadows and pencil work better than most. Each page really is a work of art.
All in all, I’m pleasantly surprised by this title, and I’m looking forward to issue #2. While it’s not perfect, it’s definitely a quality book that deserves to be read.
Ron Marz used to be a terrible writer. His Silver Surfer and Thanos stories were so awful that even Keith Giffen would be jealous of the depths to which the characters sank. Then Marz was tasked with writing Green Lantern Kyle Rayner, and suddenly he found a character he could not only make likeable, but around whom he could craft perfectly decent superhero stories. Ever since then, he’s continued to craft perfectly decent stories, in and out of the superhero genre, and while I hardly ever buy anything with his name on it, I no longer cringe when his work comes my way.
Such is the case with this first issue of the second volume of Samurai: Heaven and Earth. Granted, I’m unfamiliar with the first volume, but thanks to the accessible plot provided in this issue that subtly hints at past events, I can make a guess at what took place earlier. Still, accessibility alone doesn’t win points, and the rest of the tale is pretty standard samurai action fare, though cleverly making use of a foreign setting (the doesn’t doesn’t take place in Japan).
Marz’s Crossgen experience doesn’t seem to be washing off quickly, which comes as both a strength and weakness to the story. On one hand, it’s great he’s pursuing a tale both outside superhero conventions and typical samurai conventions, blending different cultures and ethnicities of the early 18th century. On the other hand, he’s not really attempting anything spectacularly different or appealing, hovering around the familiar elements of the genre and invoking more than a little Hollywood juice, which I usually find obnoxious but seems to be safe ground for this writer.
Good god, this is Luke Ross? The ‘90s Spider-man artist who never had his own particularly unique style? Wow, the wonders a decade can do. Layout, rendering, action, style and an overall improvement in craft, there is frighteningly little he doesn’t do well. Seriously, same guy? I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for his next project, and while I’d love to see him remain outside the superhero genre, it would be a shame if neither of the big two snapped him up in an exclusive immediately.
I may be grading this first issue low, but if Marz manages to stimulate the story with the slightest bit of complexity or character depth, it could definitely become a worthy read. Until that time comes, it’s pretty much beautifully average popcorn.
The adventures of Asukai Shiro continue. He has followed the love of his life to France, 1705. But she was taken by Don Miguel Ratera Aguilar, a Spaniard who plotted to overthrow Louis the XIV. Shiro has lost the trail, so he finds the slave trader that sold his woman into slavery. He thinks the trader’s knowledge of Europe will help him find Aguilar. Unfortunately, Aguilar has just booked passage on a ship sailing for the Americas. If Shiro follows, will either man survive the untamed wilderness of the new world?
Vol. 2 picks up right where Vol. 1 left off. If you didn’t read Vol. 1, this first issue tells you everything you need to know. It’s a simple premise really: stranger in a strange land looks for his true love. What made the first series work was Marz’s old-time movie style that blended action with humor in a light yet exciting manner. It was fun, but also heartbreaking. Luke Ross’ art and Rob Schwager’s coloring complements this feeling with dynamic action, sudden violence, beautiful women, and very human characters. The coloring also lends the story a timeless quality. It looks like the 18th century, yet feels as fresh as today.
In all honesty, this comic isn’t as deep or as serious as other books out there. But it doesn’t have to be. It’s fun and entertaining, and well worth $3 an issue. If you’re getting burned out by the bickering in Civil War, the ominous portents in 52, and the high-brow tones of indie comics, take a break with this.
This is a review for Samurai: Heaven and Earth, Vol.2 #1. Now I know this is just me stating the obvious, but I do have a reason for this opening statement of mine, and that reason is…, well…, the reason is that I needed a starting point to get my thoughts flowing. Having tried (as it is clear, rather unsuccessfully) to come up with a witty opener, I decided to go in for a “Well Huh” one. Seeing as it took it less than a couple of minutes to get the rest of this paragraph done, it looks like that even though my start was a faltering one, I seem to have hit my stride pretty quick, which, rather amusingly, was my experience with this first issue of this new series.
I say new series because as far as I am concerned (as also any other reader who hasn’t read the first S:H&E series) this story is not so much a sequel to that story but a completely new one. Not only have I not read the first story, up until a month or so back, I had never even heard of it. As to why I decided to go in for this, that too is easily explainable, with just two words: Ron Marz. Starting with this work on the previous Green Lantern series, I have grown to like Marz’s work and writing style, so much so that just his name alone is enough for me to at least try a new title if not outright add it to my monthly list. That he, along with Darryl Banks, created and nurtured (as he continues to do so in the current Ion: Guardian of the Universe maxi-series) my all time favorite Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner, also gets Mr. Marz some serious brownie points from my side. Hey, he even got me to start picking up Witchblade again. It wasn’t surprising then that even before I started on the first page, I was already more than fifty percent sold on this story with my fingers twitching to check, either to confirm or to realize the folly of my near blind faith.
Thankfully enough, neither Marz with the “simple enough for a newbie” story telling nor artist Luke Ross with the “slightly subdued yet detailed” art, came across as a disappointment. For the art, the colors left me wanting but that too only just a bit. Still, even though I would have liked a bit more flair, the detailed backgrounds more than made up for my niggling tastes. I especially liked the detailed backgrounds with the buildings looking good enough to…, well…, to live in.
As for the story itself, the opening had me confused, not because of anything in it, but only because it initially got me thinking that maybe it was a flashback of the previous series. However, once I got past that, taking it as just another startup sequence, with the battle scene in place just to get the ball rolling, things became just simpler, not to mention enjoyable. Getting past that, the rest of the issue was mainly a set up for the main players and the main plot. Asukai Shiro, the main protagonist here is tracking the people who killed his master (Daimyo Tokudaiji) and his fellow samurais, but also carried off Tokudaiji’s daughter, Lady Yoshiko. Yoshiko is also Shiro’s ladylove. Having “dealth with” those who attacked his master’s castle, Shiro is now in pursuit of Yoshiko. Appearing only (i.e. with her face uncovered) on the last panel, Yoshiko, in the “company” of her new “master” the Spaniard, Don Miguel Ratera Aguilar is set to depart for the “New World.” Although in the dark about Shiro’s whereabouts, Yoshiko is steadfast in her belief that not only will he find her but also that when he does, he will also put to an end to Aguilar, permanently. Also brought in is Safwah Ibn Badr Al Din, slave trader and Shiro’s (reluctant) travel companion and guide to the Western World.
Conclusion: Linear storytelling and realistic art come together for a strong foundation for (what I hope and) what looks to be a thoroughly engrossing tale.
You can find more reviews by Bruce Logan at www.xcave.net.
I have been an absolute nut about anything Japanese since I was a kid. My father was stationed in Japan at the very beginning of the Vietnam War, and he brought back a very regimented culture that fascinated a kid like me who liked the simplicity (note the irony in that choice of word) of the Japanese culture. I took my love of the Japanese culture into the martial arts where I studied aikido which was the evolutionary next step past the fighting arts of the samurai. What I have most noticed is the inability of most Westerners to “get” the whole Japanese culture. This is not the case here.
What I found in Samurai: Heaven and Earth was a fairly engaging story of a samurai (which means “to stop the thrusting spear”), who goes abroad into the European world to find his true love. After she was sold to a slave trader, he sets off in a globe-treking mission to find her and fulfill his destiny with her. After facing off against overwhelming odds, the samurai travels to the “West” to find the slave trader who had kidnapped his love and convinces him to assist in finding her.
The story has strong overtones of duty and honor and lack of self, except for the love of a beautiful noble woman. The artwork was not exceptionally dynamic but very realistic and believable. The most noted example is the appropriate scale of the samurai against a large Arabic bodyguard. It’s hard to remember that most Westerners would be at least head and shoulders over most Japanese and would be very difficult to hide in a crowd that they towered above.
I will be checking out the rest of the story and the previous storyline as well. The story could be condensed a little to offer some more substance to this issue, but it’s a satisfactory beginning to a heroic odyssey.
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