Paragon: The Jikan Chronicles is a 93-ish page book that collects the adventures of the time-travelling samurai Jikan, some of which have been published in issues of Paragon, Dave Candlish's ongoing anthology title; some others are new, or at least I haven't seen them before, and may have been produced for the book.
One would have thought that "time-travelling samurai" would be a bit specific to be a recurrent topos. However, including Jikan, I can think of at least four instances, so someone out there thinks the concept has unplumbed depths. What Candlish's version has going for it is variety, as his samurai hops back and forth through time in a fashion reminiscent of The Time Tunnel or Quantum Leap, enabling all manner of stories to be told within the general framework. As such, it's something of a shame that three of the stories included here are set in the 1940s, although they do at least occur in different parts of the world.
With the variety, alas, comes a frustrating lack of focus, and it's not clear what kind of story the creators want to tell. At times it appears to be about the samurai attempting to reconcile his feudal attitudes and strict moral code with those of the new societies he encounters, while other chapters take inspiration from Marvel's Wolverine, and just feature a grumpy protagonist chopping people into teeny tiny bits.
On a similar note, the majority of the book has a grim, almost nihilistic tone, with supporting characters dying in droves and others commenting on how such deaths don't matter in the grand scheme of things. Jikan himself seems to accept this outlook without resistance, only to then segue into episodes like "Jikan and the Kappa King," which is more or less a humour strip. When the comic shifts from the horrors of the witch trials of the 1700s to fart gags and people falling over, it is something of a jarring change of tone.
No less varied (but somehow less jarring) is the art. The various artists employ a number of different styles, and Candlish rattles through a couple of different approaches. Some are better than others; Candlish's first attempt is rather flat and uninspired, but he improves with the addition of grey tones in "Second Sun" and a full commitment to a minimalist style in "Demon of Steel & Smoke"--so much so that it's something of a shame to see him return to the original style (albeit much improved in terms of detail and storytelling) for "Jikan and the Kappa King."
El Chivo's rough linework for "Mistress of Time" is the best of the lot, however, packed with detail and personality, and reminiscent of the 80s and 90s work of Dan Reed for Marvel's UK branch. I would have liked to have seen what this artist would have made of the cover, although one can understand Candlish's desire to reserve that spot for himself.
All in all, The Jikan Chronicles is a mixed bag. Those involved deserve credit for including earlier and weaker work alongside the stronger and more recent stuff, but one wonders if some George Lucas-styled remastering shouldn't have occurred. The general lack of focus is also frustrating, but it's clear that there's more to come for this character, so there is still plenty of time (pun not quite intended) to pull things together into a more coherent vision. Until then, there's plenty to like in this first volume.
Paragon: The Jikan Chronicles can be purchased from Lulu.com here.
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