Lone Wolf 2100: First Impressions

lone wolf coverWhile browsing the stacks at my local comic shop last week, I happened upon this curious little gem: Dark Horse’s new release of Lone Wolf 2100.


lone-wolf-and-cubBefore we go any further, let’s make sure you have your credentials.  If you read comics, and especially if you read manga, and you don’t know Lone Wolf and Cub by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima, we can go no further.  Please, immediately stop reading my drivel and get unto thee this masterpiece.  After you have read the series, or at least a goodly number of them, then we can continue.

 

…Are you back now?  Excellent.  Let’s go on.


Cover art from the FIRST Lone Wolf 2100, also put out by Dark Horse

So THIS Lone Wolf series is intended to be a 4-part mini-series remake of a much longer serial from 2003, which itself was a reimagining of the manga from 1970. (!)  In other words:  A remake of a remake of an extremely well-loved story with a devoted cult following.  It’s the formula for a disaster.  Or a religion.  You can imagine my hesitation.  The shop owner confessed his [shameful] bias against black-and-white comics and so knew nothing about the legacy of Lone Wolf and Cub; therefore he was useless to me in terms of reviewing the new title.  I decided to venture out and brave the unknown, so great is my love for Lone Wolf.  I’m glad I did.  Of course, when it comes to things like this, nothing can ever be as good as the original.  But allowing this, and despite a minor gripe and a bit of uncertainty about where the series is still headed, I found Issue #1 to be enjoyable and a worthy tribute to its lineage.

What’s Not Working So Much for Me…

I have to admit that I went into this ready to write a laundry-list of fan boy complaints.  And yet, I really only have one gripe about the new series: it’s too American.  Having the artwork in color is nice, but besides that, the Americanization is a distraction for devotees of the manga.  There’s 3 sub-points to this:

  • Setting.  The story opens in Chicago, not Japan.  This seems unnecessary, given that the plot involves a global pandemic.
  • Dialog.  The characters talk too much.  Lone Wolf and Cub was silent and contemplative.  Thoughts and emotions were almost entirely conveyed through subtle visual cues.  This point is especially concerning when it comes to the child protagonist(s).  In the original, three-year-old Daigoro was completely mute.  This was a powerful conveyor of the story’s moral ambivalence.  By contrast, the new child, Daisy, seems a little bit older, and her tendency to speak is like the sound of breaking glass.  Series writer Eric Heisserer explains this decision in an interview with NEWSarama.com, but I’m not sure I agree with him.  To me, it runs contrary to Koike, whose scripts read like Zen koans.
  • Pace & Tone.  A related problem is the pace and tone of this new series.  I’m not sure if it’s because the team is trying to pack too much content into four issues, or if it’s just the mold for American comics.  Either way, it feels rushed.  Koike and Kojima gave us panel after panel, page after page, of sweeping landscapes and establishment shots, devoid of speech bubbles, onomatopoeia, and even characters.  Like long, cinematic camera pans, it takes measurable time for your eyes to travel across their work.  With Lone Wolf and Cub, you’re not “looking at a comic book.”  You’re reading a visual novel.  These intrinsically Japanese touches are missing from the new series.

What I’m Waiting to Find Out…

There are points in Lone Wolf 2100 that I do not understand yet, but I’m reserving judgment until the team has a fair chance to reveal their master plan.  In all cases, we’ll have to see how these things turn out before making a fair comparison to what’s come before.

  • Why the re-make?  The 2003 series seemed to meet with as much fanfare as it could ever have hoped to achieve, given the very long shadow in which it stood.  Neither did it deserve a “re-boot,” nor does this new version seem to add anything just yet.
  • Why the Zombie Apocalypse setting?  This is consistent with the 2003 series, but I pose the same question of that as well.  I admit that I’m already apathetic towards the entire zombie/pandemic genre, but I’m curious to see what philosophical story-telling opportunities are granted by this setting as compared to the Tokugawa Shogunate.
  • Why the optimism?  It may sound twisted, but we don’t typically read Lone Wolf stories to get My Little Pony feelings.  This new incarnation is more about saving the world than burning it down.  Not that that’s a bad story… but is it a Lone Wolf story?  And if not, then why brand it that way?

What’s Kicking Ass Already in Issue #1…

Alright, so enough of the criticism and caution.  Here’s what Lone Wolf 2100 already has in spades:

  • Artwork.  The artwork by Miguel Sepulveda and Javier Mena is high-quality and retains the ruggedness that Kojima brought to the original series.  It’s almost a little bit weird to see it in color, but it looks clean and professional—state of the art is what I mean.  Very attractive and a joy to slowly appreciate each panel as its own piece of art, which is in keeping with the legacy.
  • Violence and Attitude.  The new Itto moves and behaves as though he were the star pupil of his namesake. The first combat scene is as brutal as any in the original—all the more powerful by the fact that Itto’s first kills are human beings, and not the plague-infected monsters ravaging society.  Meanwhile, Itto’s sense of cold, moral superiority over everyone around him is present from the outset.  He may be “reborn” as an android, but this appears to be the Itto we know and love.
  • Nostalgia and Excitement.  And perhaps this is the answer to my question above about branding.  The new Lone Wolf 2100 is different, obviously.  But it’s not the kind of disappointing-different that makes us afraid of these kinds of “re-imaginings.”  The team at Dark Horse have so far done a great job of telling a new story that nonetheless retains the essence of and pays homage to Koike and Kojima’s masterpiece.  It was absolutely fun, and you can be sure to find me back in the comic shop on February 3rd for Issue #2.

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What’s your level of connection with the Lone Wolf legacy?  Besides the original comics, there have been now three follow-up comic series and six films.  How about other manga?  Are you like my comic shop owner: afraid of black-and-white?  What other titles can you recommend that have the tone, power, and Zen Mastery of the original Lone Wolf and Cub?  Comments welcome below.

 

 

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