Pullbox Reviews: Samurai Grandpa – “Once more into the fray…”

Samurai Grandpa
Howl Comics
Written by Eastin Deverna
Art by Shawn Daley
Coming soon!

An old samurai sets out on one last adventure to rescue his kidnapped granddaughter from an old foe.

“Once more into the fray,
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know.
Live and Die on this day…
Live and die on this day…”
– John Treloar

What does an elderly samurai do when an old enemy returns and strikes at him through his family? Having put up his sword, Ojichan faces that very question when his son is killed and granddaughter Kimiko kidnapped by a foe he believed to be long dead. With nothing but a sturdy cane and grim determination, Ojichan sets out for one last adventure. Along the way he will face many dangers, and discover hidden truths on the road to see Kimiko returned safely home.

If you’re a fan of books like 47 Ronin, or movies like The Seven Samurai, you may have already had an eye on this title. If not, settle on in here and let me fill you in. After a successful Kickstarter campaign, Samurai Grandpa is set to hit the bookshelves once its backers have received their advance copies. Proclaimed an entertaining blend of stories like Old Man Logan and Samurai Jack, Ojichan’s mission to rescue his granddaughter reads like a fable. Moving from one chapter to the next, the reader is pulled along with the octogenarian hero on what could be his final journey. Along the way, we’re given glimpses into Ojichan’s past as he reminisces about the good old days and comes to grips with the mistakes he’s made.

Eastin Deverna has put together a fairy tale look into old Japan, drawing on its rich culture and mythology to bring something new into a field full of stories that all-too-often come across as familiar. The story itself, despite a fairly heavy premise, never comes across as being too dark. It’s got a great balance in theme, and was a pretty easy read. I’m not saying it’s a story that’s been “dumbed down”, just that at no point in the 150 or so pages did I feel like I needed a break. Deverna has populated his mythic version of feudal Japan with people and creatures that are interesting and fleshed out, and I’m hard pressed to think of one who didn’t serve a purpose. That purpose might not have made itself known until farther down the road, with just enough subtle foreshadowing to give readers a “oh yeah!” moment, but that did nothing to lessen the impact of the reveal.

Another very cool bit of work is that Deverna hasn’t gifted his elderly protagonist with infallibility. Ojichan is as flawed and cantankerous as anyone walking around in the real world- myself included if you listen to my wife and daughter- and wise enough to recognize his failings while being stubborn enough to ignore them. Take it one step further and Deverna’s villains come across as much more than the flat antagonists that seem to haunt many scripts these days. Orochi in particular has a story that begs telling, rather than just being a one dimensional thug who wants to reap hate and discontent for their own sake.

As good as the writing in Samurai Grandpa is we have to keep in mind that it is a “graphic novel”. That means that someone has to lay down some pretty pictures to go along with the words. No worries there, Shawn Daley has that end covered. All of his characters are given distinctive looks and traits, from Ojichan’s wispy white hair blowing on a breeze to the mercurial temperament of old flame Kitsune. The action, while not central to the story, is dynamic and moves along smoothly from panel to panel. Finally, Daley’s colors reminded me very much of traditional Japanese water colors, particularly in the panels featuring a larger, sweeping landscape. The visible brush strokes and imperfect coverage add to the fairy tale feel of the book, and I thought were a great touch.

Samurai Grandpa was a lot of fun to read, and will go down as one of the stand outs among the many great independent comics I’ve had the pleasure to read on behalf of thePullbox. While the Kickstarter campaign is over, you can still check out the page (here) for more info and a few words from the creators… who I would also encourage you to follow on Twitter for more info on the book’s upcoming release.

Hey. Did I mention it’s got monkey ninjas? Dude, I kid you not, freakin’ monkey ninjas!

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