Soul of a Samurai #1

By Will Dixon
48 pages, black and white
Published by Image Comics

With smaller-formatted comics taking bookstores by storm, it’s easy to see why publishers would want a piece of the action for themselves. Japanese manga in particular is a hot line of books that’s flying off the shelves, so left and right we’re seeing new products trying to emulate that same tone. The problem is, not all attempts are created equal…

Shinzu is a young samurai whose personal life is in turmoil. Struggling to discover his true allegiances to himself and others, he leaves the family estate… but his father will not have that. As Shinzu finds himself being pursued, a series of encounters with wise men and mysterious swordsmen will start him down a path that will change his life forever.

Will Dixon certainly has seen many samurai stories before. The problem is, he seems determined to cram them all into a single comic. A son alienated from his father, a forbidden love-affair, the wise teacher imparting a new philosophy, the mysterious ronin, the wise old man who speaks in Zen riddles… is there any cliché that’s not on display in Soul of a Samurai #1? By the time the third stereotype appears, it’ll be hard to find a reader who’s not groaning; they’re overused and packed so closely together there’s barely anything else left. Worse, the writing style is a strange mix of modern speech patterns and random Japanese words thrown in. I’m not sure what the point of this is; it feels odd enough that these stereotypes are speaking like 21st Century people, but the occasionally inserted bits of Japanese seem to almost act like Dixon is trying to show off his research of half a dozen words and phrases.

The saving grace of Soul of a Samurai #1 is Dixon’s art. Painted in an attractive series of brown washes, it reminds me a lot of stylized Japanese scrolls and murals. It’s got a nice, soft, inviting look about it, and it does a very good job of telling Dixon’s story. It’s also a versatile style, able to show the harsher side of Soul of a Samurai with ease. The sword-battles come across appropriately brutal, and a little exciting to boot. All in all, a very pretty looking series of pages. The only quibble I had is Dixon’s computer lettering, which looks horribly out of place in this old-style art. The two constantly fight with each other, and for future issues (and a collection if that’s down the road) Dixon should either look into a more natural style of computer lettering, or to just hand-letter it. It’s bound to be an improvement either way.

By the time you’ve pushed through to the end of the book (with one final cliché waiting for you on the last page), Soul of a Samurai will leave the reader with a real dilemma. Do you keep reading the rest of the series to enjoy Dixon’s talented art, or give up because of the painful writing? It’s a tough decision, and one most people are going to need to try and make for themselves. Me, I’d cheerfully buy future issues if the book had all of the captions and speech balloons removed. If you try looking at the book without it, it’s a real improvement. Soul of a Samurai #1 is the start of a four-issue limited-series from Image Comics, and is on sale now.

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