Usagi Yojimbo Book 14 TPB: Demon Mask (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #31 – 38; UY #90 – 97, Dark Horse, 2001 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Some well-rounded, solid Usagi tales, and some of Stan’s best art up until this point, rounded out by some extra bits and bobs from Dark Horse Presents and the like.

Most of the stories in Demon Mask are perfect, and have a nice, background narrative link of Usagi traveling back to the priest’s temple after having gather Gen’s reward money. Opener The Inn on Moon Shadow Hill gives Stan the chance to go crazy with some Japanese folklore creatures, and is a fun little spooky mystery / adventure to boot; A Potter’s Tale finds the author showing mastery of the short form, packing a dense and amusing storyline of a thief’s failure into only 16 pages. The three-issue title story is interesting, but is where the collection slows down a bit – its central mystery is a bit too thin for the space it takes up, while a more interesting family relationship between a town’s member of their police force and his estranged father doesn’t quite get its due. However, this is followed by the frightening-as-heck Kumo – not recommended for those who fear spiders! – and Usagi’s final reuniting with Sanshobo in the fittingly titled Reunion, followed by some effective shorts gathered from random, non-Usagi titles.

The loose, ongoing storyline is generally best for Usagi, allowing for his one- or two-shot adventures while giving him a sense of trajectory, so the overall flow of the book works really well. Stan’s experimentation with varying line width is also really paying off at this point, allowing for some really amazing foreground / background work and a consistent polish and confidence throughout.