Friday, March 8, 2013
Graphic Novels Challenge: Samurai: Heaven and Earth, Vol. 1
As I've mentioned a number of times, my initial inspiration for running a swashbuckling campaign wasn't The Three Musketeers or Captain Blood - it was REH's "The Shadow of the Vulture," a short story set at the siege of Vienna in 1529. "TSofV" is perhaps best known as the first - and only - appearance of Red Sonya of Rogatino, a flame-haired swashbuckler who provided the inspiration for the Roy Thomas and Barry Smith's Red Sonja character in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian, but it's only one of REH's 'Oriental' historical fiction stories.
Collected into graphic novel form in 2006, Samurai: Heaven and Hell is the story of Shiro, the eponymous samurai, and his love, Yoshiko, who's captured by Chinese invaders in 1704 and carried away, setting in motion a series of events which lead Shiro to the Sun King's court in pursuit of his love.
The artwork by Luke Ross and Jason Keith is beautifully rendered, but Ron Marz's story is flatter than a pancake. The journey from the Chinese warlord's palace to Louis' France may as well have involved teleportation, reduced to a couple of 'we need a MONTAGE!' pages of action. The nature of Shiro's quest means that character development is nearly nil - figures come and go, often dispatched at the end of Shiro's katana, without the reader knowing, or particularly caring, who they are. Things get only marginally better once the action shifts to France, where Shiro predictably battles the King's Musketeers, 'cause, y'know, one of the purposes of this whole exercise was clearly to show how a katana-swinging samurai is a match for any number of broadsword-wielding musketeers.
Yes, the story falls into the familiar and predictable trope of venerating the cult of the samurai and his katana. While not wallowing in excess - Shiro doesn't, say, cut a carriage in half or deflect bullets with his sword, thank goodness - it's still a depressing exercise in round-eye otaku.
Shiro's quest continues in volume 2 . . . to be continued . . .