Usagi Yojimbo: Traitors of the Earth (#117 – 119; UY #176 – 178) – Stan Sakai

4 out of 5

Sasuke is an interesting character, because of how uninteresting he is. Or, less cutely, how little we ever seem to get to know him, and how generally over-powered he is. That’s part of his shtick: he has his own agenda, he knows everything, and Usagi wanders on to the scene and is waylaid by whichever bogeymen are plaguing the sorcerer, then Sasuke blasts ’em with magic and he’s once again on his way. There’s certainly something going on with the dude – and we get flashes of a ghostly taskmaster guiding him in these issues – but it’s Usagi’s book, whereas Sasuke is functioning in his own book, as yet unwritten, and isn’t even a side character in UY so much as an unwilling participant. As such, his introduction into Usagi’s ongoing foibles can be somewhat abrupt – as it is here, jump-cutting to a battle which has nothing to do with anything else, and then Sasuke is twinged to a new threat which happens to involve Kitsune and a netsuke charm – and equally jarring when he departs with nary a goodbye, as he also does here, dropping The End on us in a few panels.

…But that’s Sasuke. And when he does get woven into things, it generally promises something fantastical, and thus the wondrous adventure of Traitors of the Earth, with Kitsune and Kiyoko nabbing a particular item from a samurai – that netsuke charm – which happens to be quested for by an evil sorcerer, Hatakeyama, building toward a two-issue climax of chasing and zombie battling. Yup, zombies: in Stan Sakai’s hand, these resurrected soldier are both frighteningly unstoppable and also humorous, as Usagi leads them on a runaround for the charm. Issue #119’s breathless scuffle is another highlight of Sakai artistry, linework limbered and flowing across dense and detailed pages, tight but controlled, capturing every beat of the battle perfectly.