Usagi Yojimbo: Dragon Bellow Conspiracy (#1 – 6, IDW colored version) – Stan Sakai

3 out of 5

I guess we’re dropping the whole Color Classics shtick and just calling these issues by their trade title? Sure, IDW, let’s go ahead and confuse the back catalogue even more.

A reprinting of the issues from the fourth Usagi collection, colored by Ronda Pattison. I’d been back and forth with Ronda’s work on Usagi, but I did feel like they really started to get into the swing of things after a bit. However, with these reprints, this being a transitional period in Sakai’s style – going from smaller hatching and more cartoonish characters to looser, longer pencils – lusher panels – and a more mature look, Pattison also seems stuck with what kind of style to use: something more pop-colored or more sobered. The tone of Dragon Bellow is also pretty heavy, affecting that decision further. Several issues are set in totally rain-soaked or night-cloaked environs, and, frankly, the colors end up looking pretty flat in those books, and makes some of the more digital touches super obvious. When panels open up, or the action gets a bit more frenzied, Pattison’s style starts to click, but again it’s pretty back and forth. Sakai’s evolution in style works in the original black and white – the flat backgrounds and bubbly characters don’t feel odd juxtaposed against the more lithe Usagi, and weighty choreography – but has the wrong kind of attention drawn to it when colored in this fashion.

Another inspired choice on cover artist, though: David Peterson. Awesome covers, and solid overall book design.