Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Comic Book Animated Series

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic this week was Favourite Places to Read, however, I’m going rogue once again and instead will continue my trend of looking at Comic Book adaptations.  Recently I have been highlighting and examining some of the great multi-media features that are adapted from established comic book series.  So far, I have looked at my favourite animated comic book films, ranked all the MCU films, and looked at some cool DC Comics films.  These were very interesting subjects which really appealed to my likes and focuses, and I am having a blast writing about them.  To keep this trend going, I thought that this week I would spend some time looking at some of the incredible animated series based on comic books.

I am sure that all of us can remember watching a comic book adaption on our morning cartoons when we were younger (I know I can, and several examples are featured in the list below).  There is an intrinsic connection between comics and cartoons, and Hollywood’s attempts to turn great comics into fun animated entertainment have resulted in some of the best adaptions of the original content out there.  I have long enjoyed watching animated series based on comics, and we are currently in a bright new age of animated adaptations, especially with the continued focus on all-things comic book and superhero.  As a result, I thought that this would be a great opportunity to explore some of my absolute favourite animated comic book shows.

To produce this list, I pulled together all the best animated shows I have watched over the years that were originally based on some form of comic book.  There are quite a few great shows out there that have some origins in the comic book world, and I had a big pool of potential entries to work with.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to my absolute favourite 10 shows, with my typical generous Honourable Mentions section.  The final list turned out to be pretty interesting, and I was quite happy with the range of shows featured.  I have only included shows I have so far watched, so that means a couple of notable series are missing, such as Superman: The Animated Series.  I have also tended to steer away from a few 90s classics, such as X-Men or Spider-Man.  While I enjoyed these shows when I watched them and they successfully adapt some of the most iconic storylines, they really haven’t aged that well.  I also excluded the most recent animated series, What If…?, mainly because there has only been one episode so far, and I want to see at least the whole first season before I make any decision about it, although I am sure it will appear on future iterations of this list.  Despite these limitations, I ended up coming up with a pretty cool list, so let us check it out.

Honourable Mentions:

Men in Black

Men in Black Animated Series

While strongly inspired by the films, this awesome show had a lot of connections to the original Men in Black comic, and it is an outstanding animated series with some incredible opening credits.

 

Ultimate Spider-Man

Ultimate Spider Man

This was a really good modern take on Spider-Man that nicely tied into some of the other Marvel shows running at the same time.  Featuring some unique and cool adventures, this was an excellent series.

 

Wolverine and the X-Men

Wolverine and the X-Men

A brilliant series that was cut off far too soon after only a single season (an unfortunate casualty of the Disney buy-out of Marvel).  The first season was extremely strong, and if it had gone on for longer, it would have easily been in the Top Ten.

 

Generator Rex

Generator Rex

Based on an extremely short-lived comic, Generator Rex was an epic and entertaining animated show.  Set in a world where everyone has been infected by nanites, it follows titular hero Rex, a teen who can control his nanites and turn them into weapons, as he fights monsters and great villains.  A very cool show that had a great run, and which even featured a fantastic crossover with Ben 10.

 

Top Ten List (Unranked):

Invincible

Invincible

Let us start off with the recently released InvincibleInvincible is an exceptional and amazing adaption of the comic of the same name, which follows a young hero as he attempts to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Featuring an awesome cast, this show really does the comic justice and is very dark and bloody.  I loved the changes they made to the story, while also keeping all the best bits of the comic, including that incredible twist.  I literally just finished the final episode a couple of hours ago and I am still reeling from how brutal it got.  A deeply impressive show, if you have not checked out this first season yet, you are missing out.

 

Harley Quinn

Harley Quinn

From one of the darkest shows on this list to one of the funniest, Harley Quinn is another relatively recent animated show that is extremely cool.  This hilarious show features an R-rated look at one of DC’s most popular characters as she strikes out on her own.  Featuring the voice of Kaley Cuoco in the titular role, this witty and fun show contains a fantastic and moving story that dives into the heart of the protagonist, while also showing off some excellent supporting characters.  I love the great combination of over-the-top humour, intense violence, clever parodies, and emotional storylines, and I am really looking forward to the third season.

 

Young Justice

Young Justice

I must admit that I was initially wary when Young Justice was announced, as surely no show about young heroes could ever top Teen Titans.  However, the moment I watched the first episode I was an instant life-long mega fan.  With a surprisingly deep and complex narrative about a group of sidekicks who become the covert-ops wing of the Justice League, Young Justice was an impressive and compelling series that quickly produced two fantastic and moving initial seasons.  Featuring a strong group of core characters, this series adapted several great storylines from the comics, while also telling its own clever and unique overarching narrative.  I loved all the twists and character development that occurred, and I was so very, very happy when DC eventually announced a third season.  This third season was even more adult than its predecessors and it continued to expand on the series extremely well.  There is another season on the horizon and despite knowing nothing about it, I am already immensely confident that I will love it.

 

The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes

Avengers_Earth's_Mightiest_Heroes_Vol_3_2_Textless

As you can probably imagine, there have been several attempts to adapt the Avengers into an animated series, and in my opinion the best example of this is The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  Taking most of its cues from the comics rather than the MCU, this outstanding series really captures the heart of the team and presents an exceptional take on each of the main characters.  The first season is pretty perfect and comes together extremely well.  The second season, while a tad rushed in places, is also incredibly cool, and features an amazing version of the Secret Invasion arc.  Unfortunately, this series was cancelled well before its time, but while it was going, it was incredible.

 

Batman: The Animated Series

Batman - The Animated Series

There are many, many Batman series out there, but none have captured the titular hero, the outrageous villains, and the grim setting of Gotham City as perfectly as Batman: The Animated Series.  With some deep and adult storylines, this series never pulled any punches, despite being a kids show, and for many, it was the best introduction to Batman and the world of comics that you can ask for.  Serving as the definitive animated version of Batman out there, this incredible series features all the classic Batman characters, and even introduced a few new iconic faces, such as Harley Quinn.  You also have to love the voice cast, especially with Kevin Conroy providing the quintessential Batman voice, while Mark Hamill is the ultimate animated Joker.  I am lumping in The New Batman Adventures into this entry as well, mainly as it served as a continuation of the original show.  I also must call out Batman Beyond here, which serves as a great end note to this series, especially with that dark and epic connected film, Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

 

Justice League/Justice League Unlimited

Justice League Unlimited 2

For this next entry I am combining the crowning jewels of the DC Animated Universe, Justice League and Justice League Unlimited, as they are honestly just the same show.  Continuing some of the great storylines from Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, this cool series brought together seven heroes who formed the Justice League to fight some of the DC Universe’s best and most dangerous villains.  This series contains some incredible storylines, which are easily appealing to both a younger audience and veteran fans of the comics.  I have a lot of love for both the original Justice League, which focused exclusively on the seven founding members, and Justice League Unlimited, which massively expanded the roster with a great cast of supporting characters.  Despite how epic and captivating the other seasons are, my favourite storyline is the one surrounding the Justice League facing off against Project Cadmus, as it contains some of the best writing and some deep examinations of the nature of power and the potential threat that a group of heroes could pose.  A must watch series for all fans of the Justice League and DC comics in general, you will love this show.

 

The Spectacular Spider-Man

The Spectacular Spider-Man

As Marvel’s most iconic and popular comic character, Spider-Man has had an insane number of animated shows over the years, but to my mind, the best is The Spectacular Spider-Man.  Featuring a perfect take on the character without needlessly rehashing his origin tales, this series serves as a great adaption while also providing its own unique story.  Every episode of this show is deeply entertaining, while also diving into the mindset of the teenage hero, his friends, and his menagerie of villains.  Out of all the shows, I think this one captures the teenage years of Peter Parker the best, while also adding in some more modern twists to ensure it still holds up after all these years.  I can honestly watch this entire series in one extended series, it is that damn good.  Unfortunately, as with many of the best Marvel television shows, The Spectacular Spider-Man ended way too soon, although its final episode did wrap things up nicely.  An excellent and compelling series.

 

Teen Titans

Teen Titans

When there’s trouble you know who to call, Teen Titans!!! Yeah, that theme song says it all when it comes to Teen Titans.  This was a wonderful and spectacular show that had just the right mixture of silliness and darkness.  Following the adventures of the titular superhero team, for four seasons, Robin, Starfire, Raven, Cyborg and Beast Boy fought a series of outrageous villains, with a combination of skill and humour.  With some very distinctive characters, a Japanese inspired art style and two versions of the same theme song, this was one of the most unique shows out there with a style all its own.  While there was a definite focus on humour and friendship, many of the storylines have a deeper, more emotional edge to them that will appeal to watchers of all ages, and there is constant and compelling character development.  This series also contains several outstanding antagonists, with the highlight being Ron Pearlman’s Slade (Deathstroke).  I cannot express how much I love this fantastic animated series, and I have watched it many, many times.

 

X-Men: Evolution

X-Men Evolution

I have mentioned a couple of X-Men shows so far, but the one that I think is the best, by dint of being still watchable and having a decent run, is X-Men: EvolutionEvolution features an impressive X-Men narrative that focuses on teenage versions of most of the main characters.  Featuring all your favourite X-Men, this was a really cool and compelling take on the iconic team, and it contains so many great story arcs, many of which dealt with the comic’s overarching themes of discrimination and prejudice.  While there are a lot of great impacts of this series, easily the best thing this show ever did was introduce the character of X-23, Wolverine’s murderous female clone, who is one of my favourite X-Men characters.  An impressive and important series that is well worth a watch.

 

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003 and 2012 series)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles - Joint

For the final entry on this list, I am going to combine two separate Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shows, with both the 2003 and 2012 series.  Based on the comics of the same name, I have a lot of love for both Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptations, and I honestly enjoy both equally (hence the shared spot on this list).  While both follow the same characters with similar adventures, these are very different series that go in some unique directions.  The 2003 series was the one I grew up with, and I still really love its drawing style and darker storylines.  The 2012 series on the other hand works its CGI animation and anime inspirations extremely well, resulting in more humour and homages to popular culture.  Despite this apparent divide, the 2003 series did have some extremely funny moments and episodes, while the 2012 series got extremely dark in places.  I also deeply appreciate that both shows feature appearances from my favourite comic character, Usagi, with the rabbit ronin teaming up with the ninjas in multiple fun episodes.  As a result, I would strongly recommend both these series as they serve as excellent introductions to this fantastic franchise.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this list.  As you can see, there are some truly awesome animated comic shows out there, and I am really passionate about which ones I watch.  I am pretty happy with how this list turned out, and I think the unique spread of shows really reflects my tastes and preferences.  Each of the above shows is extremely good, and I would highly recommend all of them.  This is probably a list I will revisit in the future, especially as there are more and more comic-inspired animated series coming out all the time.  With shows like Invincible and What If…? bringing in a whole new generation of fans to animated adaptions, it is only a matter of time before the other companies start adapting all manner of comics into something cool.  I am already excited about a couple on the horizon (they are apparently working on an Usagi Yojimbo animated series 😊 😊 😊), and I look forward to watching them in the future.  In the meantime, let me know which of the above shows you enjoyed, and if you have any recommendations for other cool animated comic book series, I will be interested in seeing what else is out there.

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite Animated Comic Book Movies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants get come up with a list around Non-Bookish Hobbies, in order for the various participants to get to know each other.  This is a rather interesting idea from The Artsy Reader Girl, and I thought that I would use this topic to talk about something I am quite passionate about, animated movies that are based on comic books.

I am a major fan of both animated television shows and of comic books, so naturally the combination of these two genres is something I am quite keen on.  Over the years there have been a huge number of animated comic book adaptions made and I have gone out of my way to watch as many as possible.  Most of these are pretty good, although several really shine through as the cream of the crop.  Surprisingly, this is one of the few areas where DC Comics really has the advantage over Marvel.  While there are a few good Marvel Comics animated adaptions, DC has more of a monopoly over animated movies, producing a huge range of high-quality and compelling films, mostly as part of their DC Universe Animated Original Movies range.  That being said, I have included a few Marvel movies into my list below, as they have done several good movies.  I am particularly keen to do this list this year as I actually reviewed one of these movies, Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, on my blog earlier this year in what was my first film review.  I had a lot of fun reviewing this animated film and it might be something I will continue to do in the future for some of the better upcoming releases.

In order to appear on this list, the film had to be an adaption of a comic book or be based upon a character or characters who originated in comic book format.  I spent a substantial amount of time going through all the various animated movies that were out there, and I have to admit that my original list was pretty substantial.  I was able to cull it down a little, although I still had way more than 10 entries that I wanted to feature.  In the end I decided to make this a Top Twenty List, which made me a lot happier and allows me to feature several more out-there entries.  I am extremely happy with how this list turned out as every single movie below is well worth checking out for a variety of reasons.

Top Twenty List:

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Spider-Verse Poster

After talking smack about the Marvel animated films above, it does feel a little silly putting Into the Spider-Verse first on this list.  However, this is without a doubt one of the best, if not the best, animated comic book adaptation ever done, and is probably the one most people have actually seen.  This was an ultra-cool and clever movie that successfully brought the Miles Morales Spider-Man to the big screen, while also featuring an impressive voice cast, a unique animation style and an exceptionally well-written and entertaining story.  A must-watch for any comic book fan out there.

Batman: Under the Red Hood

Under the Red Hood Cover

This second entry is probably one of my absolute favourite animated comic book movies.  An adaptation of the Under the Hood storyline, this movie pits Batman against the Red Hood, a masked vigilante who has a dark connection with his past.  Despite lacking a lot of the surprise about the eventual reveal of Red Hood’s identity that most comic readers had when it was first released, this is still an extremely strong and captivating movie with a number of action-packed and emotionally charged sequences.  Anchored by an especially good voice cast, including Bruce Greenwood as Batman, Jensen Ackles as Red Hood, John DiMaggio as a delightfully evil Joker and Neil Patrick Harris as Nightwing, this is an exceptional movie, especially the end scene which sees Batman have his final dramatic confrontation with Red Hood.

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War

Apokolips War Poster

As I mentioned above, Apokolips War is a more recent release that I reviewed earlier this year.  This was another top-rate comic book movie that served as the epic final entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe, an extended collection of connected animated films all set within the same shared universe.  Containing a dark storyline and a massive cast, this movie successfully concluded the multitude of plot lines featured in the other DC Animated Movie Universe films while also providing the viewer with a number of amazing and moving scenes.  A really awesome animated film to check out.

The Lego Batman Movie

Lego Batman Poster

I could not do a list about animated comic movies without featuring The Lego Batman Movie.  While I could potentially have also used The Lego Movie or its sequel, The Lego Batman Movie is a pure superhero movie that brings a number of iconic Batman characters to life in a fun Lego way.  This is definitely the most comedic movie on this list and features a huge number of excellent jokes and send-ups of the Batman universe.  From the opening line about DC being “the house that Batman built”, to a cheeky takedown at Batman’s weird extended rogues gallery, you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh like crazy the entire way through.

The Death of Superman

Death of Superman Poster

The 1992-1993 comic book storyline The Death of Superman is one of the best-selling and iconic comics in history, and naturally several movies have attempted to adapt it before, such as the 2007 animated film Superman: Doomsday and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.  However, the best adaption is the 2018 animated film, The Death of Superman, which absolutely blew me away when it came out.  Featuring an extremely brutal fight between Doomsday and Superman (after Doomsday takes down the entire Justice League by himself), and the extremely powerful Superman death sequence (I dare you not to tear up for it!), this movie is easily one of the best animated films ever done.

Batman: Assault on Arkham

Assault on Arkham Poster

This is the Suicide Squad movie we actually needed.  Set in the same universe as the bestselling Batman: Arkham games, Assault on Arkham was released two years before the live action Suicide Squad movie and is substantially better.  While it lacks the all-star cast of the live-action film, Assault on Arkham has an extremely well-written story that effectively captures the heart of the comic book and shows the villains at their worst as they attempt to break into the worst place in the world, Arkham Asylum.  Loaded up with bloody action, great characters and humour that is frankly more adult than its live-action counterpart, you will have an amazing time watching this film.

Justice League vs. Teen Titans

Justice League vs Teen Titans Poster

To me, the DC Animated Movie Universe only started to get really good when Justice League vs. Teen Titans was released.  While there were some good entries in the early going of this shared universe, this one was leaps and bounds above most of them.  Not only does Justice League vs. Teen Titans do a great job introducing my favourite superhero team, the Teen Titans, to this universe but it also presents a really good version of the Trigon/Raven storyline from the Teen Titans comics in a short amount of time.  In addition, this proved to be a key entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe, as it successfully ties into several of the other movies in the series.  An exciting and impressive movie that was great to watch multiple times.

Superman/Batman: Apocalypse

MV5BMjkzNzI0OTA5Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDQzOTAwNzE@._V1_

While I was tempted to add Superman/Batman: Public Enemies to this list, I have more of a preference for the sequel, ApocalypseApocalypse is an excellent adaption of the Superman/Batman comic book arc, The Supergirl from Krypton, which reintroduced the Kara Zor-El version of Supergirl into the DC Comics universe (which eventually led to her current use in popular culture).  Apocalypse features an amazing storyline that sees Supergirl come to Earth, only to be captured by Darkseid, forcing Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Big Barda to travel to Apokolips to rescue her.  Not only are there several epic scenes, such as Batman’s badass showdown with Darkseid, or the massive extended fight between Darkseid and the Super cousins that decimates the Kent farm, but this movie features an impressive voice cast.  This includes the dream team of returning Justice League voice actors Kevin Conroy, Tim Daly and Susan Eisenberg (the definitive voices of Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman respectively), as well as Summer Glau as Supergirl and Andre Braugher as Darkseid.  I particularly loved Braugher’s work in this movie and I felt he gave one of the best Darkseid portrayals of all time.  An overall awesome movie, I have a lot of love for this film.

Justice League Dark

Justice League Dark Poster

This is an excellent movie that sees Batman forced to work with a mismatched team of magicians and magical creatures to stop a world-ending threat.  This was an amazing and fast-paced movie that not only serves as a key part of the DC Animated Movie Universe (the final film in the whole series was a sequel to this one), but which contains an outstanding original storyline of its own.  There are so many cool elements to this film, including the excellent reintroduction of Matt Ryan as John Constantine, the original rogue magician and world-class bastard, and it was an incredible film to enjoy.

Teen Titans: The Judas Contract

Teen Titans The Judas Contract Poster

The second Teen Titans movie set in the DC Animated Movie Universe, this film serves as a unique adaptation of the classic Teen Titans storyline, The Judas Contract.  This film sees the Teen Titans under attack from within as the master assassin Deathstroke returns to destroy the team once and for all.  Expertly tying the established comic storyline in with the version of the Teen Titans introduced in Justice League vs. Teen Titans, this was an impressive film that has a lot going for it.  You have to particularly love the complex storyline written around the character of Terra, and Beast Boy shines as not only the comic relief (the way he gets captured is just hilarious), but also as a tragic romantic figure.  Work in a fun Kevin Smith cameo, and The Judas Contract is an absolute must-see film.

Suicide Squad: Hell to Pay

Suicide Squad Hell to Pay Poster

Another exceptional Suicide Squad movie, Hell to Pay sees the titular squad compete with some of DC’s deadliest villains to obtain a “Get out of Hell Free” card.  This is wildly entertaining and surprisingly adult film that has some intriguing connections to some of the previous animated DC films.  One of the film’s advantages is that it does not take itself too seriously and at times it comes across as a gritty grindhouse action movie.  This movie has a very high death count, even amongst its main characters, and viewers are in for a bloody and exciting time.

Batman: Year One

Batman Year One Poster

This next entry was a perfect adaptation of Frank Miller’s iconic comic of the same name, which not only formed the definitive introduction to the modern Batman but which also served as the inspiration for much of Batman Begins.  This film does an outstanding job bringing this story to life, and it is anchored by its two excellent narrators, Bryan Cranston as James Gordon and Ben McKenzie as Bruce Wayne.  Cranston is of course perfect in this, and I love the fact that McKenzie voiced Batman in a movie only a few years before he was cast as James Gordon in Gotham.

Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths

Justice League Crisis on Two Earths Poster

This is another great Justice League animated movie that was originally going to be set between the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited television shows (although it ended up being separate from them).  This is an impressive movie that sees the Justice League follow a heroic Lex Luthor to an alternate Earth (Earth-Three), which is ruled over by evil versions of the Leaguers.  Not only is this a great take on a classic Justice League comic storyline, but it also contains a lot of cool moments.  I particularly liked the sociopathic Batman double, Owlman (voiced by James Woods), as he has one of the best death scenes in an animated comic book movie.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knights Return Part 2 Poster

For this entry I am combining two films into one, The Dark Knight Returns: Part One and Part Two.  These two films serve as a close adaptation of the iconic comic book by Frank Miller and feature all the best elements from the comics.  Not only does it contain a great version of the iconic battle between Batman and Superman but it has one of the most disturbing and memorable encounters between Batman and the Joker.  A truly impressive movie in both scope and delivery, it is a great way to check out one of the most revered Batman comics of all time.

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox

The Flashpoint Paradox Poster

This animated film is an adaption of the key DC Comics storyline, Flashpoint.  While I am not a major fan of what the Flashpoint comic did to the DC Universe (damn you New 52!), the story itself was pretty good and its adaption is also really fun to watch.  Featuring an intriguing time-travel storyline that sees the Flash trapped in a dark alternate timeline, this is a clever and compelling film, especially when some revelations come to light towards the end of the story.  The Flashpoint Paradox is a very close adaption to the comics, although there are a few clever twists here and there.  I was also really impressed in how the events of this film were reutilised in several preceding movies in the DC Animated Movie Universe, and it suggests a lot of pre-planning from the writers of this film.

Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Batman vs Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Poster

While I was tempted to include the 2007 TMNT film, I ended up going with last year’s Batman vs. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Based on the very successful Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, this is a fun and more light-hearted film that sees Batman team up with the Ninja Turtles to save Gotham from an alliance between Shredder and Ra’s al Ghul.  I really love the way this film blends together elements and characters from these two iconic franchises and there are some great moments throughout, from Batman absolutely spanking the Turtles the first time they meet, to a wild romp through Arkham Asylum as the heroes encounter mutated versions of Batman’s rogue gallery.  A very funny entry on this list, fans of both franchises are guaranteed to have a good laugh throughout this film.

Justice League: War

Justice League War Poster

The second entry in the DC Animated Movie Universe following The Flashpoint Paradox, Justice League: War is the movie this introduces the details of this new timeline.  Based off the Justice League: Origin storyline from The New 52, Justice League: War showcases the formation of the Justice League as they go from hunted vigilantes to national heroes by facing down Darkseid’s first invasion.  Not only does it do a good job introducing all seven members of the League in this timeline (with Shazam replacing Aquaman from the comics), but it lives up to its title, with a massive war sequence taking place throughout, as all seven members of the League engage in a brutal fight with Darkseid and his minions.

Big Hero 6

Big Hero 6 Poster

While this is more of a Disney movie than anything else, Big Hero 6 is still an adaption of a comic book, as Big Hero 6 are a Marvel Comics superhero team.  While not the greatest Disney animated film of all time, it is a lot of fun to watch and only someone with a heart of stone would fail to fall in love with Baymax.  Also, it has a fun Stan Lee cameo in the end, which carries a lot of weight with me.

Justice League: Doom

Justice League Doom Poster

Justice League: Doom is a sequel to Crisis on Two Earths which sees the Justice League fight another dangerous threat from both within and without.  Loosely based on the JLA: Tower of Babel comic, the Justice League is attacked by Vandal Savage and a cadre of supervillains who are determined to take the League off the board.  However, in order to achieve their goals, they utilise contingency plans originally created by Batman to take down his teammates.  A very smartly written movie with some epic sequences, I personally thought Doom was a little stronger than Crisis on Two Earths, and it is really worth checking out.

Hulk vs.

Hulk Vs Poster

The final entry on this list is a fun entry from Marvel that was released back in 2009.  Hulk vs. is actually a double feature film featuring two shorter movies, Hulk vs. Wolverine and Hulk vs. Thor.  Both these films are pretty much as described, with Wolverine and Thor forced to go up against a maddened Hulk who is lured into their path by their respective enemies.  One of the more brutal animated films from the 2000s, highlights include an entertaining Deadpool and the Hulk smashing through the entirety of Asgard’s armies to get to Thor.

Well, that is my list.  As you can see, I am quite passionate about these animated movies and I clearly have watched them too many times.  I hope the above notes encourage you to check some of them out as each of them are a lot of fun to watch and contain a lot of hidden depth.  Let me know which animated comic book films are your favourites in the comments below and keep an eye out for any future reviews I do of some of these movies.

Throwback Thursday: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 8: Shades of Death by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Shades of Death

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (Paperback – 1997)

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Book 8

Length: 200 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

It’s been a little while since I’ve done a Throwback Thursday article so I thought I would go back to the old faithful that is the incredible Usagi Yojimbo series and review the eighth volume, Shades of Death.

Usagi Vol 2 Issue 1

Shades of Death follows on right after the events of the seventh Usagi Yojimbo volume, Gen’s Story, and continues to follow the adventures of the rabbit samurai, Miyamoto Usagi, in this alternate version of feudal Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals. This eighth volume of the series is particularly significant as it is the first volume to be published by Dark Horse Comics, who printed the series for over 22 years, and who were only recently replaced by IDW for the latest volume, Bunraku and Other Stories.  However, the issues within this volume were originally printed by Mirage Comics, who did the entire second run of the Usagi Yojimbo series.  The Dark Horse Comics/Mirage Comics printing style is similar to the style used by the previous publisher, Fantagraphics Books. The only major difference is that the Dark Horse Comics volumes come with a story notes section at the back, as well as copies of all the covers for the various issues. I’m actually a big fan of the story notes that they started including in these volumes, as they contain some fascinating background information about some of the stories, including details about the various legends or elements of Japanese culture that Sakai focuses on in his story. Shades of Death contains issues #1-6 of the second run of the Usagi Yojimbo series, as well as containing stories from #7-8, and is made up of two major storylines and several shorter entries.

The first story is Shades of Green, and it is probably the most distinctive entry in this entire volume. The story starts with Usagi and his frequent travelling companion, Gen, being ambushed out on the road by a horde of Neko Ninja, forcing them to dive into a river to avoid being killed. Usagi and Gen eventually wash up near a remote village and encounter the mysterious rat mystic, Kakera, who asks Usagi and Gen for his help. Kakera reveals that the Neko Ninja are after him, as they hope to use his abilities to help rebuild their clan’s power after the events of The Dragon Bellow Conspiracy (volume 4). To that end, they have surrounded the village and intend to kill everyone in order to get Kakera, and even the skilled Usagi and Gen will be unable to stand up to their numbers. With no other help on the way, Kakera is forced to use his magic to summon four very special warriors to stand by their sides, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

634715

Shades of Green is a fantastic and clever story that also serves as an excellent crossover between two iconic comic book series. Pretty much the big thing about this story is the way that is introduces all four members of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the Usagi Yojimbo universe. Fans of either Usagi Yojimbo or the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise will be aware that these two comics have had numerous crossovers throughout the years, with Usagi appearing in three of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated television shows. The Turtles who appear in Shades of Green are the original Mirage Comics versions of these characters, who were created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, and who had their own long-running series during the time this volume was published. Usagi has actually encountered Leonardo from this version of the Turtles several times before, including back in the third volume of Usagi Yojimbo, The Wanderer’s Road, so the two groups of characters were able to team up rather quickly. I thought that this was an incredible crossover, and I especially loved the dynamic between the Turtles and Usagi and Gen. Not only do you get the mutual respect that Usagi and Leonardo have for each-other but there is a rather fun dynamic between Gen and the other Turtles. I particularly liked one scene where Michelangelo questions the logic of the Usagi Yojimbo universe, including why the horses aren’t sentient but rabbits and rhinos are (something I have always wondered), and even asking Gen if he has a tail, which it turns out is a rather personal question. There are also some really fun battle sequences throughout this book, and it was great to see the two samurai team up with the Turtles to fight a whole bunch of ninjas. I really liked this crossover between them, and I also think that Sakai did an amazing job drawing and portraying these characters.

In addition to the crossover elements, Shades of Green also contains a rather intriguing overall narrative, especially the parts of it that examine the leadership of the Neko Ninja clan. The Neko Ninja clan has been in a bit of decline since the fourth volume, when a large number of their ninjas, including their leader, Shingen, died. Much of the plot of this storyline revolves around two high-ranking members of the Neko Ninja, the ambitious Gunji and Shingen’s sister Chizu, fighting for control of the clan, with their battle centred on the hunt for Kakera. This proved to be really exciting, and it was cool to see the internal ninja feud, while the clan is facing off against the protagonists. This book also contained the first meeting between Usagi and Chizu, who goes on to become a major recurring character in the series as well as a potential love interest for Usagi. I quite enjoyed Shades of Green, and it definitely serves as a memorable entry in the Usagi Yojimbo series that showcases how cool a crossover with this series can be.

559585

The next entry is a short story called Jizo, which only runs for a few pages. Despite its shorter length, this is a rather inventive and surprisingly powerful story that I have a lot of love for. Jizo is set on the side of a road, and features a mother placing a dosojin, a roadside icon, of Jizo-sama, in order to help the soul of her deceased young son who was recently killed by bandits. According to Buddhist beliefs, her son’s soul is attempting to make its way into paradise by piling rocks to cross a river. By leaving the statue to Jizo, the patron and protector of children, by the side of the road, the mother is hoping that passing travellers will place a stone near it, which will help her dead son’s soul in his eternal task. The story than continues without dialogue, as the statue of Jizo watches the road, noting the various travellers who walk across it. This includes Usagi, who runs into the same bandits who killed the child, and his actions seem to provide the statue with a measure of peace. This was a clever and beautifully rendered story, and I loved that Sakai redrew the same stretch of road for every single panel. This was such a fantastic concept, and I loved how he told such a powerful story with a minimum of dialogue, only utilising some exposition from the mother at the start and end of the story. The shots of the same stretch or road were done extremely well, and it was fun to see the various people who walked past the statue during the course of the day. Not only were there some familiar faces but there were several intriguing and distinctive-looking people going about all manner of different activities. It was also cool to learn a little bit about the statues to Jizo-sama, something I saw several times when I went to Japan, and the story notes I mentioned above proved to be really useful and interesting in regards to this. I was really impressed with this entry, and I loved the compelling story that Sakai told with his fantastic drawings.

The third story in this volume is Shi, an action-packed and exciting tale that I really enjoyed. Shi sees a wandering Usagi come to a crossroad, where he lets fate and the gods choose his route (a homage to the start of the film Yojimbo). His chosen path takes him to a market town where he witnesses a peasant being bullied by a group of thugs. Intervening, Usagi chases the thugs off and is invited to the peasant’s village for dinner. However, it soon becomes clear that something strange is happening at the village, as the thugs arrive soon after and appear determined to scare all the villagers away. Investigating, Usagi soon finds himself in the midst of a conspiracy involving the local magistrate and his brother, who are determined to kill Usagi and his new friends. To that end they hire a group of four assassins, who call themselves Shi (a reworking of the Japanese character for Shi turns it into a character for death).

559657

Shi proved to be an compelling entry that serves as one of the main two stories for this volume (indeed, if you combine the names of the first story, Shades of Green, with the title of this story, Shi, which in this case means death, you get the volume’s overall title, Shades of Death). There are some great elements to this action-packed story: the intriguing conspiracy, Usagi’s mixed encounters with the villagers that he is trying to save, and some funny moments as Usagi effortlessly deals with the initial group of thugs. However, the best part of the book has to be the extended fight sequence at the end as Usagi takes on the four members of Shi, each of whom is master of a different type of weapon (sword, spear, bow and the sickle-and-chain). This was a brutal and exhausting fight for Usagi, and it serves as an impressive main set piece for the entire story. It also results in a rather confronting and memorable sequence where, in the aftermath of the fight, Usagi is challenged by a local peasant who is jealous of the attention Usagi is receiving from his betrothed. The peasant gamely steps up to fight Usagi, claiming not to be afraid, only to be faced by an enraged samurai who is worked up into a blood rage after his battle. The look of anger and hate on Usagi’s face is surprisingly terrifying, and I love how demonic Sakai made him look, showing off a darker side to his complex protagonist. I also really enjoyed the entry’s two shady antagonists in the magistrate and his brother. These two duplicitous siblings make for a murderous team, especially when each of them attempts to betray the other in a fantastic conclusion that showcases the consequences of greed. Overall, Shi was an exceptional story that I had an awesome time reading.

The next story in Shades of Death is a fun entry titled The Lizards’ Tale, which focuses on a group of Tokages, the dinosaur-like lizard critters that infest the Usagi Yojimbo universe. In this story, a group of chilly Tokages attempt to warm themselves up one snowy night by snuggling together in the warmest place they can find, around the sleeping body of Usagi. Awakening the next morning, Usagi finds himself surrounded by the potentially vicious creatures, and only manages to flee by throwing them a bag of food and running for it. However, the Tokages are not that easily escaped, and they continue to follow Usagi hoping to get more food out of him. Despite his comical efforts to get rid of them, Usagi soon grows attached the Tokage pack, especially after they help him out of a sticky situation with some bandits. The Lizards’ Tale is a very fun and humorous story that provides some light-hearted moments in this volume after some of the preceding darker stories. I really liked how Sakai told the story without any dialogue whatsoever, relying on only the exaggerated movements and facial expressions of the various characters and the Tokage to tell the story. This was an incredibly entertaining entry, and I had a great laugh as I went through it.

637715

The final three stories are a bunch of shorter entries that focus on a younger Usagi as he trains with his sword master, Katsuichi. These three stories include Usagi’s Garden, Autumn and Battlefield, and feature some character-building moments for the protagonist. Each of these three stories is rather good, and it is always interesting to see a younger Usagi when he is a rash trainee, rather than the wiser, battle-hardened warrior that he is in the rest of the series. These three short stories contain a fun mix of narratives, including one about Usagi learning patience and honesty by attempting to grow plants, another where he frees the spirit of Autumn, Aki-Onna (Autumn Women) from a monster, and a final story where he sees his first battlefield and learns that there is rarely glory or honour in the midst of war. These were a great collection of stories, and I liked the moral based narratives that each of them contained. Reading these three shorter stories proved to be a good way to end the volume and it was nice to have some low-stakes entries to wrap everything up with.

As usual, Sakai’s artwork for this volume was deeply impressive for every story, and I loved every aspect of his drawings throughout Shades of Death. While I have already mentioned his fantastic fight sequences, the cool character designs and amazing use of facial expressions while talking about some of the stories above, I also have to highlight the detailed background sequences and depictions of the beautiful, multi-seasonal Japanese landscapes. Every panel of this book is loaded with incredible detail, and I loved examining all the different backgrounds, especially as I see something new and different in this volume every time I read it. Sakai did some outstanding artwork in this volume, and it was a real treat to see his drawings and characters come to life.

638013

Shades of Death is another incredible volume in the exception Usagi Yojimbo comic book series from the legendary Stan Sakai. Featuring some top-notch narratives, impressive character inclusions and some eye-popping artwork, Shades of Death was an exciting and captivating read. I loved every second that I spend reading this volume, and this eighth volume gets another five-star rating from me.

Throwback Thursday: Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 3: The Wanderer’s Road by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo The Wanderer's Road Cover

Publisher: Fantagraphics Books (Paperback – 17 January 1989)

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Book Three

Length: 146 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I check out the third volume of the outstanding Usagi Yojimbo comic book series, The Wanderer’s Road. I was originally planning to save this one until next week, but I just watched some episodes of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated show today that featured Usagi, and so inspiration struck once again.

Usagi 7

The third volume of the Usagi Yojimbo series follows on from the events of the second volume, Samurai, and features several standalone adventures as the series’ titular protagonist, Miyamoto Usagi, continues to wander around this alternate version of Feudal Japan. The Wanderer’s Road features six first-rate and deeply enjoyable stories which were originally contained within issues #7 – 12 of the Fantagraphics Books’ Usagi Yojimbo series. It also contains a short bonus story from the Turtle Soup comic project which features a very special guest star.

The first of the stories featured within The Wanderer’s Road is The Tower. This story revolves around a hungry tokage lizard (the dinosaur-like lizards that infest Usagi’s world), who finds himself in a spot of bother and is chased up a tower by an angry shopkeeper, who refuses to let it down. Usagi, arriving upon the scene, decides to intervene, and attempts to rescue the tokage; however, thanks to the vindictive shopkeeper, he finds himself also trapped atop the tower. Attempting to bond with the tokage, who he names Spot, Usagi endures the conditions on the tower, while enraging the shopkeeper even more, until the story comes to a crashing end. The Tower was a fantastic start to this third volume, and it features a rather enjoyable and fun story. While it is perhaps the weakest story in this volume, only by dint of how incredible the other issues featured in The Wanderer’s Road are, it was still an excellent entry in this series, and served as a great introduction to a fun recurring character in Spot. The Tower contains some funny moments, from the way Usagi inadvertently keeps messing with the bullying shopkeeper on the ground, to the tiny turtle with a ninja mask that Sakai hides away in one of the crowd shots. All of this results in a fantastic story which I rather enjoyed.

Usagi 8

For the second story in this volume, A Mother’s Love, we go from a comedy to a tragedy. In this story, Usagi and his new companion Spot befriend an old woman on the road and accompany her back to town. Once in town, it is revealed the that old woman is the mother of a ruthless moneylender whose thugs have been terrorising the populace. After a tense night at the moneylender’s house, the old lady begs Usagi to kill her son, as she cannot bear to see the evil creature that he has turned into. While Usagi refuses her request, he is soon forced into a fight with the moneylender’s men. However, it is revealed that the old woman has manipulated the guards into attacking Usagi so that she can use the distraction to kill her son herself. When Usagi and Spot discover this, the old woman beseeches a stunned Usagi to kill her and finally put her out of her misery. A Mother’s Love is an incredible and heartbreaking story, which puts Usagi in a no-win situation. The last three pages of the books have to be one of the most heartbreaking and tragic sequence in the entire series. The teary old woman sing a lullaby as she cradles her dead son in her arms while a heartbroken and defeated Usagi watches on is extremely sad. The way that the old woman’s lullaby suddenly ends heavily implies that Usagi fulfilled the old woman’s wish and killed her. His final statement, “I do pray the Gods will be merciful…. Mother” as his despondently leaves the moneylender’s house, accompanied by Spot’s mournful cry are a sad way to end this story, but it makes for one heck of a captivating sequence. Other highlights of this book include Usagi’s large-scale fight against an army of bodyguards, the fun inclusion of Spot in several of this fights (little dude is lethal with his tail), and a stare-down scene between Usagi and the moneylender, which highlighted how intimidating Usagi can be when he wants to. All in all, a perfect and compelling story which shows just how amazing Usagi Yojimbo can be.

The next story in this volume, Return of the Blind Swordspig, is another masterpiece from Sakai, which features another outing from one of the best characters from Usagi Yojimbo, Zato-Ino, who was first introduced in The Ronin. This story sees the blind outlaw Zato-Ino travelling the road, still pursued by assassins and bounty hunters. Ambushed in the woods once again, Ino is able to fight off his attackers thanks to a timely warning from Spot, who had briefly walked away from Usagi. While Spot and Ino part ways, Ino soon catches up with Usagi, who cut off Ino’s nose the last time they met (he’s got a wooden nose in this book, it’s a transplant!). Ino follows Usagi to a nearby temple, where he is able to gain an advantage over Usagi in the dark as the two engage in an epic duel. Usagi’s life is spared only by the intervention of Spot, who stands between them, forcing Ino to back down, envious of the friendship Usagi is blessed with. Realising that the two souls have much in common, Usagi sends Spot to accompany Ino on his journey to find peace, and the two wonder off as friends.

Usagi 9

Return of the Blind Swordspig is another fantastic story that shows some complex and powerful character work. Sakai’s portrayal of Ino as a tortured and hate-filled loner is once again tragic and very moving, and it was fantastic to see him finally find a true friend and companion, something he has always desired. The way that Ino changes his travel songs from ballads about walking the roads alone to a melody about how he is grateful to have a companion is telling, and Usagi’s parting utterance of “Have a good life… both of you” matches the audience’s thoughts for these two great supporting characters. While the best thing about Return of Blind Swordspig is the continued examination of Ino’s complex personality and the progression of his character arc, I also really need to highlight the incredible swordfight in the dark between Ino and Usagi. Not only is this amazingly drawn, but the start of the duel where Ino slices the candle in half once again shows off Sakai’s love for classic Japanese movies. Slicing a candle to make a room dark is the trademark move of Zatoichi, the movie character that Ino in based upon, and Sakai backs this up by having Ino say “Now we’re both blind, Usagi” which is very similar to what Zatoichi says in these circumstances. All in all, this is an outstanding entry that really shows of Sakai’s ability to weave a powerful narrative around some exceptional characters.

 

The fourth story in this volume is Blade of the Gods, which introduces readers to the incredible antagonist Jei. Jei is a skilled and murderous spear-wielding samurai who wanders the land killing those he deems evil in the name of the Gods (spoiler: pretty much everyone is evil in Jei’s eyes). Encountering Usagi one night in a peasant’s hut (it is heavily implied that Jei killed the peasant before Usagi showed up), Jei suddenly declares Usagi to be evil and they engage in a brutal fight to the death both inside and outside the hut. Usagi is only saved by a blast of lighting and is left wondering if Jei was a madman or a true emissary of the gods. This was a compelling and fantastic story, which features one of the best fight sequences in the entire volume. The true highlight of this story is the introduction of Jei, who is easily one of the best characters in the entire Usagi Yojimbo universe. Jei is probably the most dangerous antagonist so far encountered in the Usagi Yojimbo series (Lord Hijiki really hasn’t revealed himself too much yet), and he serves as a wonderful recurring character. Sakai did an excellent job introducing Jei in this story, showing off his motivations, his style and the fact that he is a killer without peer and a fighter on par with Usagi. The character design for this villain is really striking, from his black-bladed spear to his pure white eyes and deranged wolf smile. I also liked the way that the reader is left wondering whether he is actually supernatural in origin or just a crazy person. While this is revealed in later volumes, the mystery of him is an exciting feature for the early Usagi Yojimbo stories that he appears in. I really love the character of Jei, who is actually based on Jason from the Friday the 13th movies (fun fact: when you use the Japanese honorific his name, Jei-san, becomes a pun on Jason), and I think that this was an excellent first appearance for him.

Usagi 10

The next story in The Wanderer’s Road is the fun entry, The Tea Cup. The Tea Cup sees the return of the bounty hunter Gen, who Usagi encounters on the road in the midst of a fight. Gen is escorting a precious tea cup to a tea master and must defend it from assassins who are trying to steal it. Accompanying Gen, Usagi helps him defend the cup with the samurai encountering a number of complications, including a band of killers, two orphaned children and the bad luck that follows Usagi and Gen when they team up. This was easily the funniest story in the entire book, thanks to the inclusion of Gen. Usagi and Gen have a hilarious relationship which is always fun to see, and they play off each other really well. This includes a number of running jokes from the previous Gen stories, the final entry in their game of sticking the other person with the lunch bill (which doesn’t go the way they planned this time) and several other hilarious scenes, including one joke that takes the entire story to come to fruition (he really was slow of mind). In this story, you get to see a bit of Gen’s softer side and the fact that, despite his rough exterior, deep down he is a good and caring person. Sakai also fills this story with a number of fantastic references to the cartoon, Groo the Wanderer, which Sakai previously did the lettering on, including a unique stylised poem at the start of the story, a fun imitation of Groo “Gen does what Gen does best”, and even cameo appearances from Sakai, Sergio Aragonés and the rest of the creative team behind Groo the Wanderer. All of this makes for a hilarious and entertaining tale, which is going to produce quite a few laughs for readers.

Usagi 11

The final full story in this volume is The Shogun’s Gift, which sees Usagi facing off against a Neko Ninja who has stolen a valuable sword from his friends Noriyuki and Tomeo of the Geishu Clan. This turned into quite an action packed and clever game of cat and rabbit (I mean cat and mouse), as Usagi puts on a great dumb samurai act to fool the ninja, Shingen. It was entertaining to watch Usagi continually encountering Shingen, especially as the ninja got more and more enraged each time Usagi appeared and casually poked holes in his story. The Shogun’s Gift ends with a great fight sequence and a rather clever bit of trickery from Usagi, which serves to turn this into a cool and enjoyable tale. I liked the introduction of Shingen, who has a big role in a future volume, and the scene where he is able to conceal the fact that he is hidden in the ceiling even after being stabbed is pretty badass. I also think that this volume did need a story that looked at the larger political picture of this world, including the nefarious plans of Lord Hikiji and the Neko Ninja, and it was good to see some more of that. Overall, this proved to be another phenomenal entry in this volume, and it served as a great concluding main story.

Usagi 12

In addition to all the big stories mentioned above, The Wanderer’s Road also contained the short bonus story, Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew. This short story originally appeared in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle comic project, Turtle Soup, and features the first encounter between Usagi and one of the turtles, in this case Leonardo. In this comical tale, Leonardo suddenly lands in Usagi’s realm and is immediately attacked by a band of ronin, while at the same time just down the road, Usagi is attacked by a group of Neko Ninja, the two fights join into one brawl, where Usagi and Leo are the only survivors. Upon seeing each other, the two assume that the other is part of the band that initially attacked them, and they run at each other to engage in battle, only for Leo to be dragged back to his Earth. This of course doesn’t stop the momentum they built up charging at each other, and it results in chaos and injury on both worlds. This was an exceedingly funny first meeting between these iconic comic characters, and this entire story is boundlessly amusing, even with its shorter size.

As you can see from my passionate descriptions above, each of the stories featured in this volume is an outstanding entry in its own right, and I deeply enjoyed each of them. I honestly cannot tell you which story in this volume was my favourite, as three in particular were quite exceptional. Sakai did a masterful job with each of these stories, and I really enjoyed how they are presented in this volume. I think that The Wanderer’s Road contains an excellent blend of stories, which range from the tragic, the dramatic and the comedic, and each of them contains some amazing examples of Sakai’s trademark artistic skill. I also think that having a volume made up entirely of shorter standalone stories also works really well, especially as Volume 3 falls between two other volumes made up of larger, multi-issue stories. The Wanderer’s Road gets another five-star rating from me, and I look forward to reviewing more Usagi Yojimbo volumes in the near future.

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol 32: Mysteries by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo Mysteries Cover.jpg

Publisher: Dark Horse Books

Publication Date – 10 July 2018

 

After a year I have finally gotten the new volume of Usagi Yojimbo, one of my favourite long-running comic series.  Now I and other fans of the long-eared samurai can finally enjoy another set of exhilarating adventures in Stan Sakai’s version of feudal Japan.

Usagi Yojimbo is a great series that has been running since 1987, three years after the character was originally created.  In a world inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, the series is set in the early Edo period of Japanese history, during the time of the Shogun and the wandering samurai.  The series was originally supposed to feature human characters and a protagonist based on the famous historical samurai Miyamoto Musashi.  However, the series was changed to feature animals after the artist drew an early version of the hero with rabbit ears and created the series’ titular yojimbo, Miyamoto Usagi.

Usagi Photo 2

The Usagi Yojimbo series follows the adventures of Miyamoto Usagi through feudal Japan.  After the death of his lord, Usagi has become a ronin, a masterless samurai, and has spent the last few years wandering the country seeking employment as a yojimbo, a bodyguard.  Throughout his travels, Usagi finds all sorts of danger and adventures, and is often drawn into a range of conflicts throughout the troubled landscape, facing threats both natural and supernatural in origin.

With 32 collected editions over 30 years, as well as the two additional graphic novels and the spin-off series, Space Usagi, Usagi Yojimbo has developed a dedicated fanbase.  Those who have not read this series may be familiar with it due to its frequent crossovers with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Characters from both franchises have crossed over into each other’s respective comic book series several times.  In addition, Usagi has appeared in all three Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television shows, often with some side characters.  One of my first exposures to the characters of Usagi Yojimbo was during The Big Brawl arch of the 2003 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series, and I’ve been a fan of the character ever since.

Usagi photo 1.png

Stan Sakai’s series is a hybrid of western graphic novels and Japanese manga.  The style and format of the comics come across as more of a classic western style, but the story content and the series’ art is heavily influenced by Japanese culture and history.  Every issue is filled with incredible depictions of Japanese customs, history, folklore and mythology, and includes realistic and historically accurate illustrations of feudal Japanese weapons, clothes and buildings.  In addition, the dialogue includes a number of Japanese words which are translated in text, and the characters are all named using traditional Japanese naming conventions, with the family name presented before the given name.

Mysteries is the 32nd collected edition of this series, and contains issues #159-#165 of the Usagi Yojimbo series.  These issues see Usagi reunited with his friend Inspector Ishida as they investigate a series of mysteries in Ishida’s jurisdiction.  There are four main stories, including The Hatamoto’s Daughter, Death by Fugu, the two-part series The Body in the Library and the three-part series Mouse TrapMysteries also contains two of the shorter Chibi Usagi stories that Sakai writes with his wife, Julie, which feature cute versions the franchise’s characters.

Readers of the latest volume of Usagi Yojimbo are in for another visual treat as Sakai continues to highlight the delicate beauty of the Japanese landscape and fantastic architecture of its towns with his spectacular artwork.  Each of the portrayals of the anthropomorphic characters in their period accurate clothing is amazing, and the reader will be astounded by the author’s desire to make his comic as aesthetically realistic as possible.  However, the real visual highlights of this comic are the action sequences that see the protagonists engage in a series of elaborate sword fights against a variety of opponents.  The artistic styling of these sword fights is both exciting and intricate, which allows the reader to imagine how these battles would occur in real life.  Mysteries contains some great examples of this series’ fantastic art form, and the reader will love the creativity that inhabits every panel of this book.

Usagi Photo 3.jpg

While most Usagi Yojimbo stories are standalone episodes, the separate stories featured within Mysteries share several connections with each other.  All of them are set within the same town and feature the character of Inspector Ishida.  In addition, several of the cases are connected by a shadowy crime boss, although the full nature of this connection isn’t fully known until the final story in the volume.

As you may be able to guess from the title of the volume, all of the main stories featured within Mysteries feature a murder and the following investigation by Inspector Ishida and Usagi.  Inspector Ishida is a high-ranking member of the Shogun’s police and is renowned throughout Japan as one of country’s most effective detectives.  Usagi has teamed up with him before in a number of adventures, including a great story, Murder at the Inn, back in Volume 29, which featured Usagi, Ishida, and Usagi’s frequent companion Gen investigating murders in a locked-down inn.  There are some great stories in the Mysteries volume, especially as Sakai has crafted together some intriguing mysteries in such short entries.  Several of the big mysteries and crime stories are connected into an elaborate overarching narrative that examines the criminal underworld of feudal Japan.  Two of the stories feature some really complex murder mysteries that flit back and forth between a number of suspects and contain motives that are very unique.  The final entry, Mousetrap, is the longest story in the volume and features an excellent tale about a thief getting caught in a middle of a fight to control the area’s organised crime and the sinister figure that has been manipulating the events of the previous stories.

Usagi Photo 5.jpg

Sakai ensures that his examination of feudal Japanese society carries through to each of these stories and their investigative arcs, affecting the characters’ investigations.  For example, only members of a lower caste are allowed to touch the murder victims’ dead bodies, which hinders the protagonists from properly examining the bodies to work out the cause of death.  There is also a fantastic investigation of the role of the inspectors in feudal Japan and how they bear the authority of the Shogun.  It also allows Ishida to show off his fighting skills with the jitte, one of my favourite Japanese weapons.

In addition to the returning Inspector Ishida, this volume of Usagi Yojimbo sees the return of several characters from previous stories.  Our favourite thieving duo of Kitsune and Kiyoko make a return in the middle story, The Body in the Library.  The fox thief Kitsune was first introduced in 1992 and has become one the series’ main recurring characters, adding significant amusement to the stories she appears in through her schemes, humour and continued casual theft of the other characters’ valuables.  Her young companion, Kiyoko, was introduced in a later story and serves as her apprentice in the life of crime while taking up many of her mentor’s bad habits.  Their inclusion in this story adds significant comic relief to an otherwise dark story of murder, and it is always fun to see what this mischievous duo are up to.  The mysterious masked thief Nezumi returns for a second adventure and is a major player in the book’s longest story, Mouse Trap.  Nezumi was introduced in the Volume 20 story After the Rat, and acts as a public Robin Hood character in Inspector Ishida’s town.  He is used to great effect in this new story, being framed for murder in a way reminiscent of his first appearance in the series.  Sakai continues to taunt his audience with the mystery of Nezumi’s identity and motives, and it is great to see this interesting and formidable character interact with Usagi for the first time, especially with their differing definitions of honour.  Readers should also keep an eye out for a certain recurring snitch who has played a similar role in a number of prior Usagi stories, despite the main characters failing to remember how treacherous he is.

One of the best parts of the Usagi Yojimbo series is the incorporation of intriguing and unique parts of Japanese culture into amazing action based comic issues.  Throughout the series, the author has utilised a number of great Japanese cultural elements in various stories, including giant kites, giant drums, pottery, swordsmithing, tea ceremonies, seaweed farming, games of chance and a huge number of mythological creatures and legends.  These stories often contain descriptions and informative depictions of the cultural activities in question, and the author works them into a fun adventure or creative mystery.  Mysteries contains two of these stories.  The main one, Death by Fugu, focuses on the preparation of fugu, the meat of the poisonous pufferfish.  This story contains an excellent description of what fugu is and the preparation required to eat it.  Death by Fugu is a powerful and tragic tale that prominently uses the art of fugu in its mystery, and definitely one of this volume’s standout stories.  The other entry, The Body in the Library, takes a brief look at the examination and trade of western medicines in Japan.  While this is not examined in as much detail, it is a fascinating to see what impact western medicines could have in feudal Japan and to see it used as a motive for a series of murders.

Usagi Photo 4.jpg

Once again Stan Sakai has produced a powerful and fantastic new volume of his iconic Usagi Yojimbo series.  Fans of this series can look forward to seeing Sakai’s iconic art style and detailed cultural insights that are a love letter to Japan and its fascinating history and society.  Mysteries contains a range of outstanding new stories, and readers will enjoy unwrapping their mysteries with Usagi and the fan favourite Inspector Ishida.  I wish I didn’t have to wait a whole year for the next volume of this amazing series.

My Rating:

Five Stars