It may just be me, but I think that with his work on Samurai Jack that writer-artist Jim Zub has really mastered the art of standalone storytelling. Each of his issues, whether they are part of an arc or not, really feel like great self-contained stories, and that’s one of the things that I love so much about his run on Samurai Jack. Apart from the whole nostalgia feel of it, his writing has been spectacular on this series, and the art by both Andy Suriano and (guest) Brittney Williams has been impressive to a great degree. Each month I can tune in to a Samurai Jack comic and not be disappointed.
I didn’t get around to doing reviews of the last two Samurai Jack issues, either because I was traveling in the week they came out, or because I just couldn’t focus enough to get through as many reviews in that week that I wanted to. But with this week’s Samurai Jack #12, I kind of take a stand on it and so here it all is. Samurai Jack #10 is a standalone issue that deals with Aku trying to defeat Jack by going into his dreams and taking over his mind while Samurai Jack #11 and #12 are part of an arc that really tests Jack’s skills and his endurance and his thirst for vengeance on Aku. Of course, it helps that the art is as great as it is too, so the overall experience is that much better.
In Samurai Jack #10 we see Aku railing against his cursed luck when it comes to defeating Jack. Time and time again the demon lord has attempted to kill or neutralize the samurai warrior, but time and time again Jack has survived. No matter what Aku throws at him, Jack comes out of it all intact, still driven to get back to his own time and defeating the demon lord there. But now, Aku hits upon a new solution wherein he decides to go after Jack’s mind, when he is sleeping.
What this one-shot does is something incredible. At first, Aku has a ton of success as he rampages through one memory after another, annihilating Jack’s parents and friends, his adulthood and childhood. But then, as is inevitable, Jack tries to fight back. That’s when the issue gets really going, as far as I’m concerned. The second half of this issue features some of the best writing that I’ve seen on this series to date, and Jim Zub is incredibly impressive in those pages. What he does here is nothing short of spectacular.
The artist on this issue is Andy Kuhn, and I rather liked his take on things. It hews close to what series artist Andy Suriano has done before, but he also leaves his own mark on things, especially when we get to see scenes from Jack’s childhood, and his depiction of Jack is almost cute then! And also physically impressive.
Samurai Jack #11 on the other hand begins the arc “Quest of the Broken Blade” and it is in this and in Samurai Jack #12 that we see Jack face his greatest challenge to date on this series. As the title suggests, Jack’s sword, a family heirloom, breaks when Soule the Seer attempts to cast a great magic that will send Jack back to his own time so that the meddling that Aku did with the time-stream can be set right once again. In the first issue of the arc, Jim really pulled me when Soule began to talk about reconnecting Jack with his past, to the moment when he was hurtled forward in time. I found myself entranced with where the story was going, and I have to admit that I was even a little suspicious, thinking of it as some great con by Aku.
But, things were exactly what they appeared to be, for once. And Jack’s reaction to finding his blade broken at the end of the ritual, when Soule proves to be no match for the magic he was trying to do, is utterly heartbreaking. The family heirloom is Jack’s constant companion in his adventures through Aku’s tortured lands and it is also one of his greatest strengths. To see that strength humbled so, it does give the soul a pause.
Then, in Samurai Jack #12, we begin to see some of the consequences of this event, because Aku soon becomes aware of the significance of what has happened and that the sword’s spirit has left it, leaving Jack defenseless against the vast armies that Aku is able to command.
Everything that I’ve loved so far about Jim’s run on this series is underscored in this issue. Forced to skulk through the world in an attempt to set right his sword so that it can be whole again, Jack has to evade legions of mercenaries and monsters as they seek to take advantage of his circumstances, and with each fight Jack becomes ever more desolate and lost. Jim drags you down into the character’s despair and the reaction is pretty much automatic. You can’t but help feel for the poor guy.
Andy Suriano is back for pencilling duties with these two issues, assisted by Ethen Beavers in some cases, while Josh Burcham provides the colours and Shawn Lee the letters. Every moment of these two issues is spectacular. I mean, it is so, so hard for me to ever describe something negative in the art department for Samurai Jack, and part of that is because the art is always so damn good! That’s exactly the case here. Whether it is Jack skulking through a city controlled by Aku or out on the run or anything, the artists capture him quite well again and again.