Space Usagi: Death and Honor (#1 – 3) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Oh, okay, Usagi Yojimbo in space – that’s easy, right? Just recast everyone into astronaut suits, move clans to ships and the landscape to the stars, and you’re set; wink to your fanbase by retelling classic stories with laser blasters. Well, sure, there’s a wink or two, and there are laser blasters and ships, but ‘Death and Honor’ is not a simple reskinning of UY. Stan, wanting to draw dinosaurs – though starting far away from that goal in this first Space Usagi mini-series – gave himself a sci-fi platform through which to get to that point, and instead of reestablishing lore for what wasn’t necessarily intended to be some far-reaching new series, he smartly uses characters and concepts with which we have familiarity so that the rabbit ronin’s sense of honor for his clan (here a bodyguard / warrior for Lord Hideaki) is never in question, and we can pick right up in the midst of a battle with the Kajitori clan. From thereon out it’s a wholly new storyline, with new characters and new twists, and a mix of pew-pew plus swordplay, when political intrigue – Usagi trying to protect a prince from the power-usurping Kajitoris – leads to a crash-landing on a planet and intense, cinematic showdowns.

The art is from Stan’s more “bubbly” era, but his craftmanship has always been excellent, and it’s quite exciting to see him employ some paneling styles that work for the larger scale of things – space fights and such – and the more action-oriented nature of the tale. At three issues, though it’s essentially a complete story, it admittedly feels like only a tiny chunk of something larger. Which it is, of course (two other Space Usagi minis would follow), but the way Stan kind of ducks out of things at the end doesn’t promote that, really, leaving things feeling a tad underwhelming… Unless, of course, you’re lucky enough to have the next series to jump right in to, which reader like m’self, coming to this decades later, do.