Comic BooksReview

Review of IDW's Samurai Jack #1

William Rosenthal ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff

Samurai Jack attempts his return in IDW‘s Samurai Jack #1 after being absent nearly ten years. We fans of the show finally have the answer to Jack’s adventures and his battle against Aku, the shape-shifting master of darkness.

Since Samurai Jack the comic serves as a direct continuation of the show, it’s impossible to critique the comic without considering the cartoon. Writer Jim Zub and artist Andy Suriano take the reigns from creator Genndy Tartakovsky, famous for his work on Dexter’s Laboratory and Star Wars: Clone Wars.

Beginning with the art, the change is immediately recognizable and possibly startling for someone expecting more of the same. Suriano’s style relies heavily on thick, black lines that appear hap-hazard, but at the same time flowing and organic. He uses colors in the same way. Shadows are blotchy as if they were sketched with marker and colors spill out of the figures.

The easiest way to see the change is in a panel which emulates a repeated image from the show: a close up of Jack’s eyes.

samurai jack eye cartoon
Samurai Jack from the Cartoon
samurai Jack eyes comic
Samurai Jack from the Comic

Whereas the original style used thin lines as well as solid, even colors, the comic attempts to insert a level of grittiness. In the comic, stress and shading are emphasized and lines are more angular, all of which add to a different emotional impact on the reader. The art lends itself to imply movement rather than direct depict it through animation.

Concerning the writing, Zub might have taken the story from Tartakovsky, but he did not keep the same direction. Tartakovsky’s Samurai Jack was critiqued for being too sophisticated for a children’s cartoon. For instance, Tartakovsky used silence frequently. Sometimes, a ten minute episode could have half the time complete without dialogue. Tartakovsky used the visuals of the cartoon to tell the story, rather than a forward narrative. One could see how this wouldn’t work with kids.

Zub uses his own approach, since that sort of direction would not work in comics either. For one, he’s made Jack much more talkative. Jack has a little more to say, even inside of his own thoughts. There’s a large portion of internal narration prior to a major fight between Jack and a band of gladiators.

samurai jack narration

We see Jack sizing up his opponents, a common trait for Jack to do. Although, the addition is the depth at which were given into Jack’s mind. A similar scene in the show would not use this kind of narration. It would have been silent to reflect Jack’s calm, calculating combative style, but that style doesn’t directly translate to comics. Visuals alone cannot carry a story, so the change is not misunderstood. Though, it does not feel genuine to the character. Hearing so much from this character, who would previously would go so long without a word, makes him feel entirely new. This could be chalked up to Zub’s vision for where he wants to take the character in the future, and the choice doesn’t hurt the comic, only defining itself as separate from its origins.

On the overall plot, we see Jack uncover another potential route back to the past, but on his quest, he must battle gladiators in the lair of a half-spider half-man, Dreezun. It’s not a revolutionary premise, but serves as an introduction of things to come. While this might work for a younger audience, the audience that grew up with the original Samurai Jack, who are arguably the audience this comic is attempting to reach, have reached adulthood. We demand sophistication in our stories, but this one is not at that level. It begins to bring the story forward, but not in any meaningful way. Jack is surely closer to obtaining his goal, but these characters and setting are casually brought up and barely explored, some of which are questionable in the Samurai Jack universe.

This Samurai Jack comic claims to be a continuation, but it very much feels like a regression. Where the cartoon has enormous staying power and continues to be quality even a decade after its release, Zab and Suriano’s version feels so temporal. Tartakovsky never compromised in order to make the original inviting for all ages. In fact, the original put a lot of kids off because it  was so unlike other Cartoon Network programs at the time. Now, after ten years and an older, still dedicated fan base, the comic doesn’t understand where it came from or why it was so influential.

Although, it still offers the potential of its namesake and answers to long standing questions, so for that reason, it still holds a place in my monthly stack. This issue gets a 3 out of 5, in the hopes of seeing something equally as inspiring as its legacy.

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