Lone Wolf & Cub: A Bad Time For the Empire

May 10th, 2009 by | Tags: , , ,

When I was little… my father was famous. He was the greatest samurai in the empire, and he was the Shogun’s decapitator. He cut off the heads of a hundred and thirty-one lords.

It was a bad time for the empire.

The Shogun just stayed inside his castle and he never came out. People said his brain was infected by devils. My father would come home and he would forget about the killings. He wasn’t scared of the Shogun, but the Shogun was scared of him. Maybe that was the problem.

Then, one night, the Shogun sent his ninja spies to our house. They were supposed to kill my father… but they didn’t.

That was the night everything changed.

-GZA, “Liquid Swords” from the album “Liquid Swords

I didn’t come to Lone Wolf & Cub through the First Comics run, which had covers by Frank Miller. I never read the original manga, saw the subtitled films, or even saw Shogun Assassin. No, my introduction to Lone Wolf & Cub came via a series of skits on GZA’s classic rap album Liquid Swords.

The first track on the album began with the text quoted above, and it was one of the most amazing things I ever heard as a kid. My cousin Franchesca and I would play the tape over and over, but particularly that part. We even had the whole quote memorized, from the “sam-rai” to the “devils” to the screams of the mother between the last two lines. The tape may have popped at some point, I’m not sure. But we played it a lot.

There are a few other skits from the film scattered throughout the album. The most notable among them is the “Come boy… choose life or death” from the beginning of 4th Chamber, a Wu-Tang classic among classics. I don’t know if this is true for my cousin or not, but Liquid Swords was elevated above even the usual fantasizing that rap brings along with it. Yeah, being from a place called Shaolin would be awesome, and so would the kung fu aesthetic that the first few Wu albums were filtered through. The Lone Wolf & Cub, or Shogun Assassin, quotes took it to the next level. I knew nothing about LW&C but what this album said, which wasn’t a lot. It was just enough to catch my interest and force my imagination to fill in the blanks.

Years later, when I actually found out about Lone Wolf & Cub and watch Shogun Assassin, I was pleased to see that it wasn’t too different from what I’d imagined it was as a pre-teen. Sure, Ogami Itto looks pretty homeless and unkempt to be a formerly famous samurai, and Daigoro is barely a toddler rather than the young kid of about my age I’d imagined him to be, but the concept is strong and has legs.

The movie itself is classic exploitation. The blood flows in rivers that are strangely thick and slightly orange. Villains are dispatched with gruesome maneuvers, and the heroes murder by the dozen. Shogun Assassin doesn’t even end with the death of the Shogun. It ends with the death of his brother, who doesn’t appear to have done anything to Itto. Despite that, it’s fairly entertaining, if a bit over-long, and full of classic lines.

LW&C is, and has been, one of my favorite storytelling engines, no matter my lack of familiarity with the series. A man and his son, hunted and on the run, and working for hire. You can play with the setting and have a story that’ll resonate in any era. The father/son combination is wish fulfillment on a certain level, because what little boy doesn’t want to grow up to be strong like his daddy?

As an idea, a lone wolf with cub has been explored in superhero comics before, with varying degrees of loyalty to the concept. ’90s era Nomad, the story of Jack Monroe, a grown-up and disheveled Captain America sidekick in a trenchcoat, featured him on the run with a young baby and a shotgun. Duane Swierczynski’s current run of Cable features the title character on the run with a young girl. Road to Perdition is another that features a LW&C scenario, though it’s set in 1920s America. If you want to really stretch the concept, you could look at even something like Batman & Robin as being the ultimate in a superheroic Lone Wolf & Cub.

That’s a little more vague than I’d like, but the idea is a strong and an attractive one. There’s just something about a grown man on the road or on the run, but still needing to protect a child. Maybe because it’s an alteration of the classic mother/father stereotypes, with the father being forced to play both protector and nurturer. Maybe it’s because it’s awesome to see a guy hit another guy with a sword to protect a kid. I don’t know.

I’ve owned the first two volumes of the series for a few years now, and haven’t read them since I first got them. I found a good deal on a bunch of the books online, and I’ve been meaning to reread the series, so I figured I’d put two and two together and let my readers reap the benefits.

So! In the tradition of Laura Hudson and Leigh Walton‘s Cereblog, I’m going to do a series of weekly reviews. Every Sunday at noon PST, I’m going to review one of the Lone Wolf & Cub volumes. I’ll be discussing the stories, my impression of the characters so far, and generally whatever comes to mind, depending on the questions the volume raises.

My plan is to cover all 28 volumes, with sidebars for related books or movies. I will end up watching all of the movies before the end of the year, so that’ll likely make it into the rotation. I have a couple volumes of Path of the Assassin and Samurai Executioner laying around, too, and I think that looking at those in the context of LW&C will be interesting.

I’d like to talk a bit about the career of Goseki Kojima and Kazuo Koike over the course of the next week weeks, too, but that may be beyond my means. Read the wiki and if I find some good links, I’ll forward them on. I’ll definitely be trying to source and research the actual historical figures or groups mentioned during the book and providing relevant links. The first couple volumes come with a glossary, so that’ll be a great help when it comes to making sense of things you or I have never heard of. I’ve got a passing interest in Japanese history, just the highlights really, but haven’t truly studied it. LW&C will be an excuse for that, as well.

If you’re a Lone Wolf fan, or have suggestions or some insight, feel free to email me. Next week, we’re talking Lone Wolf and Cub 01: The Assassin’s Road.

Before I go, though, here’s a bit of fun. Kazuo Koike, writer of Lone Wolf & Cub, also wrote another manga. It stars a character you may have heard of, but in a brand new setting.


That’s right, the Hulk. Images from here and here. The last one doesn’t get any bigger, I’m sorry to say. Wikipedia says it wasn’t a success and has never been reprinted. I can’t imagine why, because that image of Hulk crying is better everything. If I can find a full chapter of it, I’ll throw it into the mix.

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10 comments to “Lone Wolf & Cub: A Bad Time For the Empire”

  1. Heh, the Hulk filtered through Crying Freeman. David, there are plenty of manga treatments of American superheroes. Do you think it would be cool to see Western comic versions of classic manga characters?

  2. Definitely. I’m 100% interested in that. Jim Lee doing Dragon Ball, Kyle Baker doing Dr Slump, Frank Quitely doing Akira, or Steve Ditko taking an amazing stab at Astro Boy.

  3. Heh, the Hulk filtered through Crying Freeman.

    I’d rather see Hulk filtered through Morgan Freeman.

    “Hulk wish he could tell you that stupid hair man fought the good fight, and puny agent men let him be. Hulk wish he could tell you that – but Weapon X not fairy-tale world. Stupid hair man never remembered who did it, but we all knew.”

  4. Super pumped for this series, man. Maybe it’ll finally get me to read beyond volume four of Lone Wolf and Cub (I ain’t made of money).

  5. Looking forward to reading the weekly installments, David!

    BTW, if you’re going to read the whole Koike canon, skip Color of Rage. It’s comically awful: think Mandingo crossed with a C-list samurai picture, and you have some idea of just how ridiculous the whole thing is. It’s too bad, because most of Koike’s work has aged well.

  6. Over the years, I’ve managed to pick up lots of Koike’s series. The series he’s done with Goseki Kojima are probably my favorites. They also look lovely on a bookshelf: http://pics.livejournal.com/wetsprocket/pic/000fk0c6

    The 80s manga he did with Ikegami are great reads, too, and are exploit-tastic. I haven’t read Color of Rage but I get the feeling it falls into that latter category…

    I currently in vol.11 of Path of the Assassin and the 3rd “Perfect Collection” of the original Viz version of Crying Freeman from the 1990s.

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  8. […] the bold, I suppose. A few minutes after my second Lone Wolf and Cub post went live, I noticed a comment caught in my spam trap. I’m glad I stopped to read it, because it’s a gem. It […]

  9. Mike Wenthe at Satisfactory Comics did a day by day posting on Lone Wolf and Cub in February: http://satisfactorycomics.blogspot.com/search/label/Lone%20Wolf%20and%20Cub

  10. @DerikB: Yes, I saw that on my other Lone Wolf post.