Monday, March 14, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Samurai Jack #20

(2015, IDW)

Some licensed comics are born from nostalgia, or from commerce, from brand recognition, or from trademark perpetuation.   Most licensed comics are, in fact.  But every so often there comes a licensed comic that is a real passion project for its creator(s) and thus transcends just being a mere extension of a TV, movie, or toy property, instead becoming a fair extension of it.  Sometimes it even goes so far as being essential, and on rare occasions even transcends the source. 

There are many examples: Steve Rude's Space Ghost one-shot in the late 1980's; Evan Dorkin's Bill and Ted's run for Marvel in the early 1990's; Ryan North's Adventure Time comics; the still-going Scioli/Barber Transformers vs. G.I. Joe; and this all too briefly-lived Samurai Jack series written by Jim Zub and (mostly) illustrated by Andy Suriano.

Both my kids (7 years apart) became entranced by our DVD copies of Samurai Jack at a very young age.  The simplicity of story structure, often minimal dialogue to parse, along with clean, striking visuals and a hefty dose of emotional outbursts make it very attractive and interesting to kids at that age (and the appreciation just gets deeper as you get older with it).  It's a rare show that preaches persistence in the face of loss or disappointment (the kids might not take the message to heart though). Samurai Jack's four seasons never felt complete.  It's not that it needed to continue on forever (and I don't know if I could handle Jack's continual heartbreak for too much longer) but it was (and remains) utterly unique, and completely transfixing that it certainly hadn't reached the point where it was getting old.

DC, around the end of the 90's, toyed with Samurai Jack comics, mostly within the pages of their Cartoon Network anthology series and never with much more than a work-for-hire feel.  There was no passion.  Zub and Suriano bring both passion and appreciation of the TV series to their pages. 
It can't transcend the show, for Jack's, sound design, use of motion, and vocal performances are so integral to its being.  But on the page Suriano replicate the way the show would break apart its screen into dynamic, distinctive comic-like panels.  But in every way Suriano didn't just emulate the show, he brought himself into it.  Character designs were just slightly off model with a bit of the artist's flair, and he managed to create and design entirely new environments that felt like they belonged to Aku's mad future.

This last issue is a love letter to the show, with the title, "Mako the Scribe" a tribute to the late voice actor of Aku.  Phil Lamarr (voice of Jack) gets a character too (as does Suriano).  The issue acts as coda to both the comic and TV series without bringing a direct ending, instead flashing to Jack's future where he's a much different man fighting foe a much different purpose.  None of this run had Genndy Tartakovski's input but I hope when the series returns next year and Tartakovski eventually gives it it's deserved finale that it runs pretty much exactly like this. 

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