LONE WOLF AND CUB was the single most recommended manga title mentioned in response to my request (buried somewhere in the comments of my legendary manga posts) for a starting off point in to the work. So through the good graces of eBay and my PayPal account I acquired a couple of dozen of the early volumes and dug in.
The volumes I picked up were those put out by First Publishing back in 1987-88. They apparently only ran up to about issue 30 which, at roughly 60 pages per book, accounts for less than a quarter of the total LW&C run. As many of you surely know, Dark Horse began publishing five issue collections in 2000, eventually compiling a 28 volume set that covered the entire series. You can find pretty much all of these volumes on Amazon if you’re so inclined. My completist nature will undoubtedly force me down that path.
So far I’ve read about a dozen issues and it’s quite easy to see why this was recommended. Excellent stuff. The story is simple: Disgraced Shogun assassin Ogami Itto and his infant son Daigoro travel the countryside in Edo-period Japan, selling their services to people in need while seeking revenge against the hit squad who killed Itto's wife. If this were simply a revenge tale the stories would get old quick but author Kazuo Koike uses the broader revenge and redemption themes as vehicles for a detailed exploration of the culture, history and brutality of feudal Japan. Each issue is self-contained -- often only progressing the greater plot incrementally -- and structured to strengthen our trust in Itto’s honor and ability. Each inevitably leading to a violent denouement. There’s some repetition here as every issue involves Itto spilling someone's (usually multiple someones) blood and at times it's hard to tell one antagonist from the next, but on a visceral level that’s part of the appeal.
The art of Goseki Kojima is more rugged and realistic than you might typically think of when someone says “manga” and in many places the art is all you have as Kojima’s images carry the load for pages at a time. I’ve read that Kojima has had a significant influence on Eastern and Western artists alike (particularly Frank Miller who pens the covers and intros for the first 12 issues) and while I’m not knowledgeable enough to speak to that, there are certainly some artists working today who could learn a thing or three about the value of facial expressions and staging action scenes from Kojima’s work here.
If I was given to rating things with numbers I would give LONE WOLF AND CUB a 10 out of 12 since of the dozen issues I’ve read 10 have been very good to excellent and only two have been predictable or uninspired. (I’m not going to say which two.) If you’re looking for something different than the standard super hero fair, and yet not too far off the beaten path, you should try these out. I promise you’ll be entertained and that you'll learn something.