The Dark Horse Comics imprint Dark Horse Manga may not be one of the giants of North American manga distribution but they make up for their smaller library with consistently and quality. With a focus on mature-rated titles, the legendary “Lone Wolf and Cub” has been one of their bigger comics, which they started publishing in 2000 in regular manga-volume-format, eventually releasing all 28 books that compile the entire 8700+ page epic. A recent trend in manga distribution has been growing in popularity in North America, which is the “3-in-1”; releasing three volumes of a series in a single larger-sized book, which look better for display and are more cost efficient than buying the volumes separately. While this book is titled “Omnibus Volume 1” and not “3-in-1 Volume 1”, it takes the same approach, releasing the first three volumes in one 712-page installment.
“Lone Wolf and Cub” dates back to 1970, and it is one of the most influential manga in the history of the medium, having enormous influence in the East and the West (Frank Miller has been vocal about his love of this series, which he says was the main inspiration for his own “Ronin”; he even does the artwork for the covers of the Dark Horse publications).
The manga’s original run lasted a brief six years (1970-1976), in that time releasing 28 volumes, which is an amazing achievement considering the high quality of this comic, especially the artwork. For a comic created in the 1970s this does not look dated in the slightest, and would receive high praise for its art were it even published today. Created in a pre-digital age, and with just one artist, Goseki Kojima drew – with great detail and craft – roughly 8700 pages in six years, a workload unheard of in the American comic book industry today. His drawings are breath taking and capture Edo-period Japan in gorgeous artful fashion (really, there are not enough adjectives to describe how good of an artist he is).
This comic was ahead of its time, with nothing else looking quite look this or reading quite like this in the time period it was created. Writer Kazuo Koike and artist Goseki Kojima appeared to have been inspired by now-classic samurai cinema. In its storytelling and visuals, there are flourishes of Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Harakiri, Samurai Rebellion, and others. And with the freedom granted by the medium to potentially go on and on (and on), the length and scope of “Lone Wolf and Cub” make it feel more epic than any samurai film.
The story – or more accurately, stories – told in “Omnibus Volume 1” are purely episodic, with each chapter telling a self-contained tale. The constants are the title characters: the enigmatic “lone wolf” and his son. Once the respected Shogun’s executioner, Ogami Itto is framed for traitorous intentions towards the Shogun, and is forced to leave his position. To darken this man’s life even more, his wife is murdered, along with the rest of his close family – except his very young son. Losing his wife and honour, Ogami vows to avenge her death becoming a ronin. Taking his child with him, the two wander Japan, accepting assassination jobs and getting involved in other conflicts. A couple stories in the volume are devoted to back-story; others follow various murder plots. The stories in the book do not even necessarily have to be read in order, each one working that well on its own.
This might sound like the premise of a Shonen Jump teen series, but do not be mislead; it is far darker, and more disturbing than typical action manga. The action frequently gets extremely violent with plenty of bloodshed, there is nudity and explicit sex (even graphic depictions of rape) throughout, and things can get quite intense. The tone is consistently serious, and it is clear this comic is intended for adult and mature teenage readers only.
This comic is a spectacular work of entertainment and art, and even provides a history lesson to its patient readers without tearing them away from the story. An extraordinary amount of historical details went into this comic, and after reading enough “Lone Wolf and Cub” one could become a bit of an expert on Japan Edo-period life and culture.
“Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Volume 1” is a captivating experience, and those 712 pages will fly by for many readers. Fortunately, there is still a lot of this series left. “Omnibus Volume 2” will be released August 20, 2013, and “Omnibus Volume 3” on November 13, 2013. Those who adore samurai/edo cinema, manga, influential comics that still hold up, or stunningly gorgeous artwork in their comics will not regret adding this series to their collection.