May 20, 2010

2010 Eisner Nominees: Usagi Yojimbo #123

Here at Comic Attack, we’ve been bringing you inside looks at some of the comic books that are part of the 2010 Eisner Award Nominees.  This month, Dark Horse’s Usagi Yojimbo book is taking a vacation, but that’s no reason to interrupt our Usagi Yojimbo coverage, is it?  No!

It just so happens that Usagi Yojimbo #123: The Death of Lord Hikiji is nominated for “Best Single Issue (or One-Shot)” award!  The legendary samurai hare is in good company in that category, also.  Nominated right along with him are: Brave and the Bold #28: “Blackhawk and the Flash: Firing Line”, Captain America #601: “Red, White, and Blue-Blood”, Ganges #3, and The Unwritten #5: “How the Whale Became”.

The winners will be announced at this year’s Comic-Con International in San Diego.

Just as the cover boasts, Stan Sakai and Usagi Yojimbo are no strangers to the Eisner Award Nominations.  In 1996, Stan Sakai won an Eisner for “Best Letterer” for his work in Groo and Usagi Yojimbo. In 1999, Sakai won an Eisner for “Best Serialized Story” for Usagi Yojimbo‘s “Grasscutter. He has well over twenty Eisner nominations and counting.  Last year, Usagi Yojimbo was nominated for “Best Continuing Series,” but lost out to Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly’s All Star Superman.  Perhaps this year will play out differently?  Let’s take a look at what Usagi Yojimbo #123: The Death of Lord Hikiji is all about….

Once a loyal retainer until his lord’s death in battle, Miyamoto Usagi is now an unemployed ronin walking the warrior’s pilgrimage, in search of harmony.

Usagi’s lord Mifune was killed in the battle of Adachigahara against the forces of the Dark Lord, Hikiji, who still schemes to become shogun.  After a series of intrigues years ago, Hikiji has been quiet for some time…

Usagi creator, Stan Sakai

Usagi, amid his travels, came upon a small village.  He was going to approach a group of samurai to inquire about a cheap place to stay for the night, when he caught a glimpse of an assassin lurking in the shadows.  Usagi’s warning was too late as the assassin fell upon his targets with swift blades.  The rabbit ronin stepped up to the assassin, prepared to draw his swords, when he was told that it was no concern of his.

Before any trouble could start, the assassin noticed the Mifune mon (clan crest) on Usagi’s clothing.  The assassin removed his mask and revealed himself to be Masaki, an old friend.  They both used to serve lord Mifune.  When Usagi questioned his friend about becoming an assassin, Masaki pointed out the mon of the fallen samurai.  It was the black sun crest of lord Hikiji.  Their reunion was cut short, however, when the police arrived.  Masaki and Usagi quickly escaped and took sanctuary in a nearby house.

Over dinner, Masaki told Usagi that he still serves lord Mifune and he is now seeking revenge for his master’s death.  A large band of Mifune’s faithful vowed to assassinate lord Hikiji.  Over time, however, many had been killed in their quest.  Others grew hopeless and abandoned the cause.  Masaki and his servant, Kenta, were the only two that remained on their quest that led them to the town that they were now in.  Lord Hikiji was staying there.  Masaki was relieved that he came across Usagi; now there are three to the cause.  After arguing that one shouldn’t throw their life away seeking revenge, Usagi finally agreed to join them.  Kenta had heard that Hikiji was set to visit the temple very early in the morning before the public arrived.  That’s when they would strike.

Morning came.  Masaki was filled with excitement!  They were finally going to carry out their duty as samurai.  Usagi, Masaki, and Kenta moved into positions.  When lord Hikiji steps out of the palanquin, Usagi and Kenta would attack from the East, drawing the guards.  Masaki would strike from the West, delivering the killing stroke.

Wearing a hooded garment, Hikiji exited the palanquin.  Kenta and Usagi drew their swords.  Just as they were about to pounce on the guards, Kenta called Usagi back.  Something was wrong.  The hooded Hikiji was walking different than normal.  It was an impostor!

Masaki was blinded by revenge.  He didn’t notice the difference.  There were only a handful of guards.  Over zealous, he attacked.  He made quick work of the palanquin guards and moved in on Hikiji.  Behind Masaki, clearing out from the temple, was a whole army of samurai.  It was an ambush!   He struck down the hooded figure and raised his hands in victory, shouting to the heavens that he had finally avenged lord Mifune.  Not even an instant later, a samurai’s blade stopped him cold.

Kenta tried to rush to his master’s aid, but Usagi stopped him.  It was too late.  There were far too many samurai for them to handle, and Maskai was now dead, anyway.  A dash into the fray would be suicide.  The guards took up their dead and left the scene before the public arrived.  They left Masaki lying on the ground.  When it was clear, Usagi and Kenta went to their friend.

How those who aren't of the Usagi faithful know him.

Usagi held Masaki in his arms.  He was almost gone.  Masaki gathered the strength to tell them he was sorry he didn’t wait for them.  With only a few guards, it was too good an opportunity to pass up.  He told them that he finally did it.  He finally killed lord Hikiji and avenged lord Mifune.  Kenta tried to tell Masaki the truth, but Usagi hushed him before he could come out with it.  Usagi told Masaki that he did avenge their lord’s death.  He told Masaki that he was a good and loyal samurai.  Masaki thanked him and passed into the afterlife.

The two remaining friends held a funeral pyre for Masaki.  Kenta admitted that Usagi was right to let Masaki believe he had accomplished his life’s goal.  He also shared that he didn’t know what to do.  He had always been loyal to his master.  With his master gone, should he take up the vendetta?  Usagi told him to lay down his sword, get married, and start a family.  Kenta asked Usagi if he was going to do the same, but Usagi told him that it was not yet his time for happiness.

Why this story was nominated, is plain to see.  The story is deeply rooted in action and excitement, a tale of revenge stemming from a feud from many years back.  It is a story of friendship and the true character of a hero.  Miyamoto Usagi is quite the stand up…rabbit.

In my opinion, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo is deserving of an Eisner award for this story, and it is deserving  of a spot on your pull list, as well.

Aron White



  1. Kristin

    Pretty obvious to me why it was nominated. The story sounds lovely.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Comic Attack, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: 2010 Eisner Nominees: Usagi Yojimbo #123 via @ComicAttack #comics #Eisner […]

  3. Well, I only know Usagi from the the TMNT…can one just jump into the comic series without knowing what’s going on?

  4. Aron

    Kristin- Oh, it is lovely!

    Andy- I would say so, with all the recent issues being self-contained but, as one reader commented on the #128 review, there’s just some things newbies won’t understand and may take only a tiny bit of the enjoyment away.

  5. Billy

    Good to see a DH book nominated, not just stuff from the big 2.

  6. Aron

    Yeah, Billy. There’s also a lot of Vertigo titles on there, too. I know that is a DC line, but a lot of those are creator-owned.

  7. thomas

    @ Andy: Usagi Yojimbo is a serie that easily invites new readers; short, self containing stories are a good way to have a look at the style (of art and story telling), so you can tell pretty fast if you’re going to like it or not. And with the TPBs being constantly printed and reprinted, it is easy to get all the stories for relatively little money. There are at the time writing 23 TPBs (book 24 will be published this summer), but don’t be intimidated by the sheer number; I believe that, when you’ve read one, you’ll what another and so on… it just comes naturally ;-))
    I hear that even some libraries have them in stock. IMHO it is one of the best series published and well worth giving it a try.

  8. […] let that put a pause on our awesome Usagi Yojimbo coverage, as we took an in depth look into Usagi Yojimbo #123, which is up for a 2010 Eisner Award for “Best Single Issue (or One-Shot).”  Fresh […]

  9. James

    Agreed! Andy:I have books 1-9 and I am not even an avid comic book collector. Thomas is spot on about the series. Sakai’s was heavily influenced by 1950’s and 60’s samurai films, and it definitely shows. There’s a linear storyline with solid character development. You can get used issues for next to nothing on Amazon – order a few and see what you think.

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