‘Cold Blood Samurai’ #1 Comic Review: Best Debut of 2019
I’ll say it up front: You should read Cold Blood Samurai. It’s an outstanding comic.
Published by Action Lab, the book is a Samurai epic, set in a Meiji-era Japan populated by anthropomorphic reptiles and amphibians.
The Meiji era was characterized by Japan’s movement from isolationist feudalism, to Imperialism and a complicated relationship with Western nations. It was a time of profound change. During this period, Japan’s native culture and traditions were often at odds with industrialism and modernization. Cold Blood Samurai is absolutely drenched in this very real history, and it makes an intriguing backdrop for storytelling.
The other major influence is the Greek Epic Batrachomyomachia, or “The War of Mice and Frogs,” which is loosely attributed to Homer (remember the Iliad? Yeah, that guy). Don’t Google it unless you want spoilers about this comic, as a good chunk of the plot is drawn from that source.
Writer Massimo Rosi (Dark Frontier) draws upon these historical sources to create a rich, brilliant fiction. His narrative voice is exceptional, setting the stage with careful exposition that never bogs the comic down.
Artist Ludovica Ceregatti (Hotline Miami Wildlife) delivers outstanding work. His style, paired with the historical backdrop, lends a huge degree of realism to a story about Samurai frogs. He deftly switches art styles at times, drawing a more classical Japanese-influenced style when the story calls for it. Like the best artists in the industry, Ceregatti has a unique style, but never loses focus on keeping storytelling at the forefront. Colorist Renato Stevanato contributes a great deal to the storytelling as well. In all, Cold Blood Samurai is an artistically beautiful comic.
When it comes to martial arts and anthropomorphic reptiles, it’s hard to escape the long shadow of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Had Cold Blood Samurai been written in 1989 rather than 2019, that would have been a hard comparison to shake. The comic does deliver plenty of action, with sword-wielding Samurai battling armored crabs, to satisfy TMNT fans.
A closer comparison might be Stan Sakai’s epic Usagi Yojimbo, with it’s deep appreciation for it’s setting in Japanese history. (I’ll never pass up an opportunity to tell people to read Usagi either. It’s amazing, and your life will be better for reading it.) While Sakai is the master of character work, Rosi’s Cold Blood Samurai is a lot more narrative driven, at least in the first issue. To go with another anthropomorphic animal example, it’s tone is a lot closer to Kurt Busiek’s Autumnlands.
At it’s core, Cold Blood Samurai is a comic about the cultural war between the old ways, represented by the Samurai, and the invasion of Western influences. The main character is a foreigner, depicted as a salamander, in a Japan populated by frogs, being invaded by lizards and crabs. As the story moves forward, this “outsider” perspective should provide an interesting viewpoint into that conflict. Rosi and Ceregatti tread this cultural ground respectfully, in a way that never feels exploitative.
This is a fantastic first issue, and easily my favorite debut this year. I’ll be eagerly awaiting the next installment, due in stores on April 24th.
Issue 1 of Cold Blood Samurai is in stores now. The following are preview pages courtesy of publisher, Action Lab.