Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Lone Wolf and Cub, Volume 1: The Assassin's Road

A landmark manga, Lone Wolf and Cub tells the tale of Ogami Ittō, the shogun's executioner who is framed and disgraced into exile with his infant son. A killer pushing a baby carriage is a jarring image, and it is set up by a choice. After the deaths of the rest of the family, Ittō offers his young boy two items: a ball or a sword. If he chose the ball, he would be sent to be with his mother (i.e. killed) but if he chose the sword he would go on the journey for revenge and retribution. As you can tell from the title, he chose the sword.

This volume shows the beginning of their quest and sets up Ittō's actions as an assassin for hire who wanders 17th century Japan. The pair find many takers for their services, with bandits and thugs preying on people across the land. Scenes of revenge and violence abound even when they are not hired for a job. Ittō is shown to be full of wisdom and also as invincible as a force of nature, and his son Daigorō is surprisingly alert, composed, and responsive for being so young.

Kazuo Koike, the writer, is a prolific author of manga and novels. He began his career as a writer for the popular series Golgo 13 and also went on to create and write the popular manga Crying Freeman. He began Gekika Sonjuku, a college course for manga creators, and his graduates include some notable figures. The other half of the "Golden Duo" responsible for this hit work was artist Goseki Kojima. He drew mostly samurai stories but was a big influence on other artists, notably Frank Miller. Both Koike and Kojima received the Hall of Fame Eisner Award in 2004.

This series was originally published from 1970 until 1976 in Weekly Manga Action, a publication that has been coming out since 1967. It was wildly popular then, with the magazine selling upward of 8 million copies per issue. The story was also adapted into 7 films and 2 separate television series in Japan. In the US, all 28 volumes are published by Dark Horse.

Lone Wolf and Cub has influenced a number of other works, notably the recent Road to Perdition graphic novel and movie in the US. Long considered a classic, it has been well reviewed, such as where David Brothers wrote that "the first volume does an interesting job of setting up the story and providing a hook." A few more reviews are linked here.

A preview of the first volume is available here.

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