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Samurai Jack: Tales Of The Wandering Warrior

    Ian Jane

  • Samurai Jack: Tales Of The Wandering Warrior

    Samurai Jack: Tales Of The Wandering Warrior
    Released by: IDW Publishing
    Released on: October 19th, 2016.
    Written by: Jim Zubkavich
    Illustrated by: Andy Suriano
    Purchase From Amazon

    Here you go - all twenty issues of IDW's criminally underrated Samurai Jack series collected together in one massive omnibus style edition.

    Written by my friend and yours Jim Zub (he of Skullkickers and The Makeshift Miracle) with artwork by the original Samurai Jack character designer Andy Suriano, IDW's resurrection of one of Cartoon Networks favorite fallen sons is off to a very good start. There's a respect for tradition here that's obvious from the first page of the first issue where Aku, the shape shifting master of darkness from the cartoon, fills us in, first person style, on his past with Jack. From there, we catch up with the titular samurai as he wanders through a windy desert to find Soule The Seer. The dialogue exchange between Jack and Soule continues to tradition of humor that the series is known for, establishing Jack as tough enough to have taken care of some scorpions before Soule even alerted him to the fact that, yes, they're going to be a problem.

    Anyone familiar with the show that the series has spun off from knows that Jack needs to get back to his time to take care of Aku. He's come to Soule for assistance with that. These pages, in which Soule relates Jack's story, helps to get those new to the character up to date without cramming it down the readers' throats. It works in the context of the story that Zub is telling. We then learn that Aku, jerk that he is, shredded the 'ropes of eons' and that Jack is going to need to take care of this to set things right. If he can do this, he should be able to finally go home. Jack is told if he can find one thread, it'll pull him toward the others.

    And so he's off. His quest now laid out for him, Jack takes the knowledge that Soule has given him and heads out to find the first thread. He heads to the location of the first thread, gets yelled at by an angry spider, and falls through a web landing in a pit where another spider named Dreezun guards the thread. Jack is told he must compete in a gladiatorial competition and take down five opponents to emerge the victor. Jack finds that the thread he's recovered is, as Soule told him, guiding him towards the others. He arrives in a small town and when he asks for help is told the only ones that can help him are 'The Twins.' It turns out the village is protected by martial artist twins named Dis and Dat but they are in fact running a protection racket, exploiting the villagers and collecting unfair tolls and taxes. As is Jack's way, he tries to avoid a violent confrontation but Dis and Dat aren't having any of it but as these two are able to operate as one, working in tandem, this proves more challenging than Jack anticipates.

    When he's defeated, he breaks to recover and while he does his thread shows him where the next thread is hidden and how it is being used for sinister purposes. Renewed and reinvigorated, Jack sets out to retrieve the next thread.

    Glower shows Jack around town and offers him their hospitality and soon it comes out that the villagers are forbidden to interact with strangers. Jack and Gloer share a meal, then spar, after which Jack explains to him the intent of his mission. Gloer denies knowing of any strand and the humorously changes the subject to get Jack's mind wandering to other topics. But soon it's time for action when Aku's robot drones attack Grantus. Jack leads into action but is soon outnumbered…

    Jack scales an icy cliff, noting as he does that the threads he's gathered so far guide him to the others, which would explain why he's now searching arctic tundra inhabited by a deadly saber tooth tiger. He safely makes his way to a village in search of food and shelter but he's pushed away and teased, being told that it's so cold he'll soon toot an ice cube!

    But as luck would have it, Jack has arrived in this strange town full of strange people just in time for Queen Krystle's birthday party. It seems that though the townsfolk are starving, their ageless queen has been doing just fine. When Jack fails to bow in her presence, he's attacked by her guards and while he puts up a great fight he's soon outnumbered and put to work in the Queens' kitchen. There he meets an old man named Ruest, a man who was once mayor of the town prior to the Queen's rule. Jack uses his skills to break out of the kitchen and free some of the slaves so that he can find the thread that he senses is near - but when the Queen's army of Musket Knights is massive, nothing can be easy.

    From here, he realizes that the final thread is within his grasp and that should he be able to procure it, 'chrono-magic' will be his to yield. And where are the threads he already has guiding him? Aku's fortress, which in a way sees this issue bring things full circle. Meanwhile, in his inner chamber, Aku uses the last thread as dental floss! After that, Aku wonders aloud why he hasn't been bothered by the samurai in some time but then, when he asks his mirror to show him what Jack is up to, soon realizes that he's right behind him.

    Jack unsheathes his sword and attacks Aku, and they engage in a ferocious battle. When Aku wises up to the fact that Jack is after the thread and then realizes why, he ups the ante and… well, we're not going to spoil it but let's just say he brings the fight to the next level and the story in this issue nicely ends in an interesting way the Threads storyline and then, not so surprisingly, sets the stage for what should be the next chapter in the ongoing adventures of a samurai displaced in time.

    The leprechauns say that they're only going to turn Jack back into his manly macho self if he takes out Cuhullin The Cruel for them and then suddenly our two heroines are teleported off to the countryside where they hear the incessant song that means they won't be changing back any time soon. And to make matters worse for the pair? It starts to rain.

    They make camp and try to figure out just who Cuhullin The Cruel is when suddenly a giant shows up looking for mashed potatoes. The Scotswoman realizes this is Cuhullin and attacks, but it's in vein. Jack's attack, however, is a bit more formidable. When the giant surrenders, The Scotswoman still wants to kill but Jack, being of a nobler mindset, will not allow the execution of an unarmed foe. When Cuhullin's life is spared, Jack and his companion learn the truth about the leprechauns and then decide to do something about the deceptions they've all collectively encountered.

    Next we get a self-contained story. The evil wizard Aku blurts out one single word - “HOW?” He's frustrated that his foe continues to be able to outwit him no matter how brilliant or nefarious his schemes to eliminate him may be. He comes to the realization that since Jack is able to take on any physical attack sent his way that he should try to go for his brain. After all, Aku tells us, “his mind is small and squishy and weak.”

    Meanwhile, Jack sits in the desert in solitude thinking back to the days when his father taught him about the stars. A bird with a familiar face arrives, morphs into an insect and then crawls into the samurai's ear as he drifts off to sleep. Now inside Jack's head, Aku starts messing with those memories first messing up one of his father and then one of his mother. Would should be tender reminiscences become the stuff of nightmares, and we see Aku work his sinister magic on years of Jack's remembered past. Jack, however, will not go down without a fight, even as he sleeps.

    From there? Jack's sword has been snapped and Soule The Seer lays wounded to the side, his body not strong enough to finish the ritual after summoning the spirit bridge that Jack had hoped would return him home. To make matters worse, Soule tells Jack that the spirit of his sword has escaped, but he cannot tell whether it was into the part or into the future. He also tells him, before he shuffles off this mortal coil, that Aku will be able to sense the fact that the sword's spirit is gone and that he'll likely make a move knowing that Jack will be without his most important weapon.

    And it turns out that Soule is right. After attending to his bonsai tree, Aku does notice what has happened and he commands the citizens of this land he controls to destroy Jack. A stranger in a strange land, Jack finds himself essentially unarmed and surrounded by those who would destroy him to earn Aku's favor and cash in on the offered reward.

    A splash page of sorts brings us up to speed on the origin of Jack's fabled blade and its tumultuous history and how the breakage of said blade has led to Jack being 'tested.'

    From here we see the bearded samurai placed on a lily pad where a giant serpent arises from the swamp, the unarmed Jack unsure how to best this foe. When he decides simply not to, he meditates and heads to some sort of undersea kingdom where, armed with an axe, he battles some Viking foes while recalling how the sword was given to him by his father - he did not EARN it. Now is the time where he'll do just that. The end of this sends him to Egypt where he climbs a pyramid in the hot desert sun and as he starts to burn he wakes up - was this a dream or not? It goes on from there… this genuinely epic tale continues as Jack, disguised in a red robe matching that of every other townsperson, heads up the mountainside to the massive castle on the outskirts of town. A booming voice alerts all who arrive that 'today you will find the answers that you seek' and that 'all are welcome.' Who is everyone there to see? It turns out that it's The Master Of Time and he's here to tell everyone about his Talisman, an object that will allow those who use it to 'ensure their proper place in the time steam.'

    Later that night, as a grumpy janitor cleans up a mess of confetti, Jack sneaks his way into the castle past the armed guards and the booby traps aplenty but is then apprehended after making a wrong turn. The guards attack but he makes his way out and then meets up with a small man brushing his teeth - Jack tells him his story but it falls on deaf ears and he is quite literally thrown out with the trash. But in hindsight, maybe that's not such a bad thing? That is, if it allows him to team up with someone who might be able to help… even if that someone is an obnoxious person from Jack's own past!

    This storyline just keeps going and going but that's a good thing. Zub's able to introduce some interesting twists and turns and so long as he keeps the 'fun' level maxed out, which he's been able to do so far, then why rush it? This is far and away the longest storyline since the series launched and it's actually refreshing to have a longer, more intricate tale to enjoy. The introduction of the Master Of Time is interesting - we'll see how the importance of his talisman plays out (is it like a TARDIS? Is Jack going to steal it and travel through time to fix all of this?), while the character from his past who appears in the last few pages of the issue is a nice twist too. Add to that plenty of the series' trademark humor and this is a really enjoyable read.

    Now, as far as the art goes, let's not beat around the bush - Andy Suriano's work is missed. But having said that, Sergio Quijada's a great replacement. He doesn't try to copy Suriano's style but brings his own approach to every panel. Switching artists in the middle of a storyline isn't always an easy choice or something that readers are necessarily going to want to see, but if Quijada sticks around for a bit, that's not a bad thing at all. There's a lot of great coloring here and some genuinely impressive panel lay out too. All in all, another great chapter - bring on the next installment!

    The story that began in issue #16 continues, with Sergio Quijada back on art duties (he and Andy Suriano appear to be switching it up a bit on this series, which is fine with me!) as Jack and his new ally, The Thief, work together to sneak into the castle fortress of the one calling himself 'The Master Of Time.'

    Getting in proves easier than they thought but once they're inside, there's an array of traps to deal with. Jack uses his 'kung fu' to make it through, The Thief his technologically advanced gadgets. From there? Lasers. The melty-type. They'll figure out a way past those too, but then get foiled by… a smoke detector? The alert brings in an army of guards and the duo battle their way down the stairs and eventually meet the Master himself. Of course, he's not what he seems…

    This is a quick read, the pages fly by as the story is light on plot and dialogue and heavy on action. The series' trademark humor is a big part of this one, not just in the back and forth between Jack and The Thief were we expect some snappy banter and playful teasing, but in the sound effects and gadgets that are employed as well. Jim Zubkavich's story moves quickly but it's fun, while Quijada's art is clean and crisp and laid out in interesting and often times unconventional panel designs that keep your eyes glued to the page.

    This issue ends the two part Samurai Jack And The Master Of Time storyline - and supposedly the series is coming to an end in the coming months, which is a shame as it's been a fantastic continuation of the Cartoon Network series. Hopefully Zub and company will end things on a high note. There's no reason they shouldn't as the series has kept the level of quality consistently high from day one, but with nothing left to lose, maybe we'll see some more experimental tales told? Time will tell. Either way, this is yet again a nice entry in what has been a genuinely enjoyable and well made series from the first page of the first issue.

    Samurai Jack And The Mad Mutts Of Mistery, begins with Jack wandering through a dense crowd populated with all manner of creature, man and beast alike. A small furry like creature dressed in a dark cloak brings him a message and Jack, smiling, agrees to the letter's terms. He's led to a tavern where various dogs are hanging out and here he is introduced to the Canine Archeologists - Sir Drifus Alexander, Sir Angus McDuffy and Sir Colin Bartholomew Montgomery Rothchild III, Rothy for short. It seems they have a lead on an exciting new 'dog discovery' but they've been told the site where they need to dig is haunted. They want Jack to accompany and protect them.

    He and the three dogs head into the desert, catching up on their respective quests and sharing some dog treats along the way, and eventually they arrive at the burial site of the first talking dog. Immediately after their arrival the diggers hired for the project quit - they've been hearing unearthly howls coming from below and don't want to go any further. Jack, never one to back away from danger, leads the archeologists into the tomb past various howl-o-glyphs and into the burial site. It is then that they come face to face with a ghost…

    Underneath another classic cover by Andy Suriano are pages and pages of… bad dog puns. Zubkavich seems to be seeing how far he can take it here and he takes it to ridiculous extremes, but it makes for a fun read. The story builds to an interesting conclusion that is as humorous as you'd expect, but if you start to think about it as you read it and imagine it in either animated or live action form, you can see how it might actually be creepy in that regard. Either way, it's quirky, creative and fun to read story, the kind readers of this series have come to expect from Zub.

    Art chores are handled this issue by Christine Larson who lends a cleaner, slightly more traditional style to the book than we've seen from some of the other artists. The tiki style is toned down a bit and the blacks aren't as heavy and splashy but it works and it works well. Her style fits the Samurai Jack universe nicely and she manages to give both Jack and his canine companions plenty of personality and peculiar style. The next issues wraps things up, seemingly for good, but for now this single issue standalone story should make existing fans of the series plenty happy.

    The last issue of IDW's Samurai Jack series is entitled Mako The Scribe. Maybe not so surprisingly, it features Make, the man who inscribes the 'words and deeds of important historical figures.' Why? Because he seeks knowledge and enlightenment. His current project is to find and write about Jack. To do this he inquires with a bartender (named Suriano!) and in doing so is given quite a story.

    Month back a meteor landed. When the local farmers went to investigate they found a 'bear-beast from beyond the stars.' There was a fight but it didn't go well and the bear's name? Jack. Mako soon realizes this is all hearsay and his inquiries with other townspeople yield similar results until he meets a man in a bar who has actually met Jack in person. Years back this man drove a wagon from port to port and on one run he and his daughter came face to face with Aku's robots only to be saved by the infamous samurai himself. After he tells his story, the man asks him why he's so interested in the subject and after Mako explains, the man offers to take him to Jack. Together they voyage to a camp high up in the mountains populated by those who would stand up to Aku - each one with their own story about Jack.

    Later that night when Mako asks to meet Jack, his request is obliged and he comes face to face with the legend himself, on the very eve that he and his crew plan to launch an assault on Aku…

    And with that, we come to the end. It's a fitting, even beautiful, finish to what has been a genuinely great continuation of the fan favorite animated series that served as the springboard for this book. Zub's wordsmithing in this last issue is top notch and, without spoiling the end, he really does bring a nice sense of closure to the series while still leaving the door open for more adventures should the opportunity present itself down the road. It is, in a word, the perfect way to send off what he and the art crew have been obviously working so hard at these past few years. It is, for lack of a better word, touching but not at the expense of the humor that has always been key to making this such a fun read.

    Illustrator Andy Suriano returns to finish off the series with Zub. His art is as good here as it has been in the issues that he's illustrated prior. While this issue doesn't allow him the opportunity to draw a lot of big action set pieces as he has in the past he still does some really interesting and creative things with panel layout and design. Josh Burcham's colors stand out here as well, and he and Suriano really do a perfect job of bringing the animated series to the printed page.

    Here's to a job well done. The series was hitting high notes from the start and it consistently did that for the duration. This last issue sends things out on a high note for sure - take a bow, guys - here's to a job well done.

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