Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Half a dozen film adaptations of the long-running Japanese serial comic Lone Wolf And Cub were imported to America in the early 1970s, but the actual manga didn't make it here until 15 years later. First Comics began reprinting a severely edited version in 1987, no doubt encouraged by the "grim and gritty" comics movement typified by the 1986 releases of Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Miller's determined personal promotion of the series certainly helped draw fans' attention; he wrote introductions lavishly praising Lone Wolf as his favorite comic and personally drew cover art for First's first 12 issues. But First stopped publishing Lone Wolf in 1991, leaving literally thousands of pages—including the series' finale—untranslated and inaccessible to American fans. Nearly a decade later, Dark Horse Comics has vowed to reprint the entire series in 28 hefty volumes. Their editions again use Miller's cover art but are otherwise markedly different from First's, both for better and for worse: Dark Horse's books are tiny pocket editions, about a quarter of the size of First's, which often results in grainy, indistinct shading. But Dark Horse shows far more respect for the original material, with a less colloquial and more adult translation that embraces the Japanese language instead of overriding it. And, unlike First's, the Dark Horse volumes are unedited and unsimplified. They follow the series' original order, launching readers through eight graphically gory adventures before nominally introducing protagonists Ogami Itto, once the shogun's personal executioner, and his toddler son, Daigoro. With his family discredited by the plotting of a rival clan, Ogami declines to commit honorable suicide, instead choosing Meifumado, "the way of demons and damnation." As an assassin, he travels across Japan with his child, bringing his own unswerving sense of honor to the business of murdering bandits and holy men alike for money. Lone Wolf echoes traditional Japanese art in its restrained, realistic visuals and its unrestrained stories, which evoke classical samurai tales' blend of cultured aestheticism and sheer, ruthless bloody-mindedness. But it's also well-known for its modern cinematic qualities, which turn the grim Ogami into the resolutely self-reliant hero at the center of an eastern Western. It's no wonder Miller admires Lone Wolf And Cub; his own work uses intense violence, convoluted plotting, and cultural iconography (though admittedly from a different culture) to transcend his genre in a similarly striking way.


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