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‘The Flute of the Fallen Tiger’
Lone Wolf and Cub #4 by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, with Frank Miller
© 2013 James LaFond
1987, First Comics, 60 pages
I love these traditional Japanese comics, with the sparse narration and taut dialogue. What I particularly like about this series, released in the U.S. in the late 1980s, are the introductions by Frank Miller, and his dynamic cover art adaptations.
Frank writes a nice micro-essay in which he makes the claim that comic art is mankind’s first form of symbolic communication. He makes his case well, if in a manner that would make academics retch vehemently.
Lone Wolf and Cub #4 continues the saga of ‘The Baby Cart Assassin’, Itto Ogami, the former executioner to the Shogun. The standard Asian storyline of the just follower being betrayed by the corrupt leader is rendered here in its starkest form. Ogami is literally a demon: a heartless, avenger making his way in the world as a paid assassin.
This episode combines the three standard elements in this series that work together to soften the image of Ogami and make him palatable: a population of ignorant commoners, a literal sea of blockheaded humanity that must be navigated with dignity; menacing representatives of the feudal power structure [in this case the ‘Three Bentenrai Brothers’]; and Ogami’s adorable toddler son, known as the ‘Cub’ to his father’s ‘Lone Wolf’.
Most of the action takes place on the ‘sea vessel Narutu’. As usual the storyline is stark and direct, imparting a brutal sense of intimacy laced with dread. The art is of some interest to students of Japanese weaponry, featured some items rarely depicted in western treatments of the subject.
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