Shi: Ju-Nen #1

By Billy Tucci
32 pages, color
Published by Dark Horse Comics

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years since Shi first appeared in comic stores. Debuting in a time period when warrior women comics seemed to be appearing left and right, Shi was an instant success… which meant that I was never able to find a copy unless I was willing to pay a small fortune. (I wasn’t willing to do so, I might add.) I was certainly curious about the book, though, and now that Billy Tucci has returned with Shi: Ju-Nen from Dark Horse, I figured this would be a good a chance as any to see what all the fuss was about.

Ana Ishikawa is a woman who at one point in her life dressed up as Shi, the incarnation of death, to exact vengeance and retribution. Now she hides on Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido, hunting for food and letting the rest of the world forget that she exists. The problem is, the rest of the world is still moving on, and soon she will be dragged into it whether she likes it or not…

It’s been a while, to the best of my recollection, since a Shi comic was published. I figured that meant that I’d be on the same footing as most other readers, and I read the helpfully provided “Prelude” text piece that helped get me up to speed on what happened before. I hate to say it, but it didn’t prepare me at all for reading Shi: Ju-Nen at all. Who were all these characters? What is their significance? What the heck was going on? About the only thing I think I really understood were the pages with Ana hunting on Hokkaido, but even that falls apart when a demon jumps out of the fire and I don’t know if this is a series where that sort of thing happens on a regular basis or if we’re supposed to know this means that Ana’s crazy. This is ultimately a jumble of unfamiliar faces and situations that are never really adequately explained (little footnotes telling the reader that dialogue is referring to Crusade Comics’s Tomoe #3 is not much of a help), and little more to a new reader.

I have to admit that I was even disappointed by the art, although not as much. After seeing the gorgeously drawn cover I was expecting the interiors to be just as striking. Here, though, I found slightly cartoonish, flat looking drawings. If I didn’t know better I’d have thought that Danger Girl artist J. Scott Campbell had drawn some of these pages, with exaggerated phases and bodies. It’s strange, because the cover looks so spectacular, as does an earlier drawing of Shi that’s used in an advertisement for Crusade Comics’s website; there, Shi is drawn with a lush, full figure that is both attractive and realistic. Here, the art never seems finished, and the light, diffused colors don’t help matters, keeping anything from every looking crisp and clear. It’s incredibly disappointing.

It’s a real shame because I wanted to like Shi: Ju-Nen but it just didn’t work for me. The biggest problem is that it’s impenetrable for a new reader, and when you’re bringing a comic to a new publisher after a bit of a hiatus, that’s exactly who they should have been courting. I can’t see anyone but die-hard Shi fans reading this and finding themselves wanting to know what happens next. A pity, because this was a chance for Tucci to really show everyone what his book was all about. Instead, it just falls flat.

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