Usagi Yojimbo Book 23 TPB: Bridge of Tears (Dark Horse, vol. 3, #94 – 102; UY #153 – 161, Dark Horse, 2009 edition) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Usagi’s general do-gooding (and coincidental right / wrong-place right / wrong-timeness) runs him afoul of a league of assassins, becoming frequently problematic enough to send the glowering Shizukuri his way. The way this has been pieced together is quite fantastic, and Stan deciding to take a whole issue dedicated to Shizukuri’s black and white morality – even at the expense of his own feelings – builds the character up concisely and effectively: he’s a great villain, communicated to us in the most compact manner possible. Meanwhile, Usagi picks up a tag-along in Mayumi, sort of guilted in to escorting her out of her town to some potentially better future elsewhere, which she rather forcefully misinterprets as being Usagi’s partner. I like that Stan keeps her personality very consistent – whether in troubled times or peaceful times, she runs very hot and cold – and putting her in the eventual middle of the fomenting trouble with the assassins league is a good wrinkle, playing with Usagi’s good guy image quite well. However, Stan overplays this a bit when forcing a potential romance between the two; the meet cuteish part of it is good, but I think it would’ve been a more effective emotional blow for Usagi if the issues didn’t have him suddenly realizing feelings for her – it comes across like more of a cheap shot to up the drama instead of keeping things more tempered and human.

The art in the collection is brilliant: Stan has shifted towards a very deep, heavy line and it gives the characters and settings a ton of gravitas and depth. I also like how Dark Horse decided to sequence things, placing the non-narrative “roast” celebratory issue #100 wholly separated to the back of the book (and including its wraparound cover, plus the ad for the book that ran in other comics), even if that issue’s run of guest artists and concept kinda sorta falls flat; it’s a fun idea, and this was the best way to present it as part of the trades.