Category Archives: Comic Reviews

Blade of the Immortal volume 1: Blood of a Thousand

Blade of the Immortal volume 1
“Blood of a Thousand”
by Hiroaki Samura
Dark Horse Comics
Translated by Dana Lewis and Toren Smith
BW, 136 pgs
$14.95 US / Higher in Canada

Blade of the Immortal is the story of Manji, a samurai who killed without question on behalf of his master. Realizing his master wasn’t the good guy he thought, Manji assassinates him, a most heinous crime in ancient Japan. Hunted as a criminal, Manji is tired of living and wants to die, but can’t. An old woman has stuffed him full of Kessen-Chu, bloodworms that repair even his most grievous wounds. Manji is immortal and if he is to die, he must slay one thousand evil men.

Blood of a Thousand is the English translation of the first six issues of the manga, Blade of the Immortal. The manga itself first appeared and continues to be published in the Japanese magazine Afternoon. Dark Horse Comics also publishes English versions of the individual issues before collecting them into trade paperbacks.

In this collection, we are introduced to Manji and to the personal demons that compel him in the present. He also meet Rin, an orphan who seeks to revenge the death of her parents at the hands of the Itto-ryu. Together, Manji and Rin begin a journey to hunt down this merciless band of men.

Blood of a Thousand would be little more than a gory action story if not for Hiroaki Samura’s delicate handling of the relationship between Manji and Rin. As a ronin, Manji is a swordsman of high caliber and a man of questionable morals. At times he seems like nothing more than a cynical street punk possessing a gallows humour. And yet, he also shows moments of great philosophical insight and tenderness. Rin is an aspiring swordswoman. She portrays herself as a strong woman ready to take her revenge, but beneath her tough exterior she is still hurting over the loss of her parents. These two damaged souls meet and together they begin a journey of unending violence in an attempt to find peace.

The story unfolds in the second year of Tenmai, which is approximately 1782 – 1783 by Gregorian calendars. Manji may be a masterless samurai, but Hirokai Samura has decided not to steep his tale in historical accuracy and the way of Bushido. Instead, he has created his own arsenal of fantastic weaponry and fighting techniques in order to escape the scrutiny of samurai fanatics. Samura has also used a variety of linguistic styles, alternating between the mannered style of old Japan and street slang more likely to be found in a city of our own time. The result is a tale edged with science fiction and punk sensibilities, a blood-soaked tale of stunning brutality, beauty and passion.

Samura’s elegant artwork alternates between ink and pencil lines. When he is working with the fine point of a pencil, his illustrations are filled with enough detail and atmosphere to transport the reader to ancient Japan. He captures both the frantic energy and brutality of battle with his climatic full-page illustrations, but it is in the quieter moments when Samura really shines. His fine hand invokes, in the reader, a wide range of emotions toward his protagonists, the foremost of which is empathy. (Chad Boudreau)

Yeast Hoist: Does Music Make You Cry?

Yeast Hoist: Does Music Make You Cry?
by Ron Rege Jr.

Highwater Books

BW, 64 pgs
$8.95 US / Higher in Canada

Ron Rege Jr.’s Yeast Hoist opens up with a drug strip entitled “Madness”. A guy, probably about Rege’s age, tactically takes a moment to blast a quick hoot in a stranger’s bathroom. To hide the fact, he exhales down the tub’s drainpipe to rid the evidence the smoke and stench would leave.

Rege’s work has been saturating comic anthologies for about 15 years now; appearing in the worst and the best. Drawn & Quarterly had him, Rosetta had him; Rege’s work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Canada’s The National Post. This is only a hint of Rege’s artistic resume. I haven’t even touched on to his own books Skibber~Bee~Bye, Boys, The Dum Dum Posse Reader or Fuc(k).

The cover for Yeast Hoist: Does Music Make You Cry? is one of my favourite parts on Rege’s book. It sports a wild, crazed, dancing fiend letting loose his flailing feet. The energy and vibe coming through these drawings is enhanced with the sketchy pencil crayon auras Rege colours around the action. This dancer is caught up in the moment and I couldn’t help but hear the beats and grooves to which he was dancing.

Rege’s art style is definitely original and distinct. Rege uses action lines and arrows to show movement in his comic strips. Most artists stay away from the use of these lines or use them sparingly, but Rege integrates them into his drawing using motion as a narrative devise. In “Madness”, the stoned up character bangs his head on the end of the tap; he curls up in pain as lightning bolts spray from his head and his arms and legs wiggle about. The motion lines blur and blend together giving the reader so much to take in it’s almost like watching a movie.

The headlining strip “Does Music Make You Cry?” is about the love of music. Rege’s character finds himself crying uncontrollably during a band’s practice run, and he thinks himself a weird emotional robot. To stop this, the character picks up a set of drum sticks and beats upon everything he can lay his sticks to, sampling the sound of all things. Rege easily transfixes his audience as they groove to his beats as his friends’ band plays on.

I can’t help but think much of Rege’s work is autobiographical. Actually, I’m pretty sure they are one way or another. Many of the strips are dated and a location is named. Rege’s strips start at Berkeley and move east to Amsterdam and Italy. The content varies every strip; from people he has met on his journey, to places he has visited.

Another great set of panels in this collection is “Where I Slept”. This strip is based on the sleeping habits of his friend Andy Bernick in England over a three week period. Andy slept wherever he could; sometimes outside and rarely in the same place twice. Each panel describes the rooms Andy slept in, with the number of people, and if he was able to sleep fully extended. Andy also comments on the cleanliness of each room and its contents.

Though Yeast Hoist: Does Music Make You Cry? is published in graphic novel format, the title Yeast Hoist reflects Rege’s own ongoing work. Does Music Make You Cry? is technically number eleven in the Yeast Hoist series, which has appeared regularly in one form or another since 1995. Previous Yeast Hoist stories have appeared mostly in anthologies; #10 appeared in Ganzfeld #3, #9 in Expo 2001, and so on. Good luck finding them.

Ron Rege Jr. is a great cartoonist. Aside from his trademark character depictions (always sporting spherical round heads and bulbous noses), Rege knows how to tell a superb comic book narrative. He is always attempting to break the traditional panel layout, and does so successfully. His action lines often work as panel borders, yet when borders do appear, they are distinct and different every time. Rege isn’t in comics to fill the mold; he’s reinventing them every day. (Dana Tillusz)