Usagi Yojimbo Color Classics (#1 – 5) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Reprinting the multi-part origin expansion Samurai and the short Kappa from the original Usagi series, now colored.

Having only read these tales in the smaller trade size, it’s definitely a treat to not only have them at regular comic formats, but also paced out at a monthly rate, which sort of forces one to take in the story more slowly. (One of the great things about Stan Sakai is how deceptively simply he writes – a master or using minimalism and genre tropes to layer in complexity of character and commentary, especially over years of issues, but this also means that you can speedrun through a trade’s worth of tales easily, so slowing down is nice.) Samurai is also a great story, a smart reframing of Usagi’s origin, as he retells it to Gen; rounding out the fifth issue with the folk tale-ish Kappa keeps the tone intact.

And then of course, the colors, as done by Ronda Pattison. Pattison is a common colorist for IDW, and while her range of color choices really makes pages look quite appealing, her gradients don’t always work for me, often looking too digital. This is especially noticeable with a more flat art style like Sakai’s. When she’s enhancing his shading or details, it works really well, and during cluttered scenes – like the epic battle concluding Samurai – or night-settings, like Kappa, it looks fantastic, but a lot of Usagi is by day, and squaring off two or a few characters, which is when that digitalness seems off.

But we’ll see how it goes as these reprints continue, as I’m sure I’m used to Tom Luth’s more subtle blends. Either way, the overall quality of these Color Classics and the content is, for this first arc, supreme.