In this week’s discussion of the library of Barry Blair, I continue talking about his Samurai comic. As I mentioned last week, this comic combines the cyberpunk sensibilities of the time with influences of anime series like Robotech. The 80s gave us the (second) rise of an Eastern martial arts influence on Western comics. In the mainstream you saw comic characters like Daredevil going against ninja warriors, and Wolverine becoming a ronin samurai.
Keep in mind that in 1986 all of this was still fairly exotic stuff. Manga and anime weren’t as prevalent in America as they are today, what stuff made it to American audiences were fan-made translations of anime series and small press publishers who were doing some of the early manga translations. And people like Barry Blair were taking these fringe items and building something new out of them.
The first character that we meet in Samurai is interestingly the clone of the protagonist of the series. Hotachi is a giant robot pilot, something fairly common in manga and anime, but where Blair makes this unique is the fact that in this world they make clones because regular people are too big to pilot one of the robots. I’m still reading the series, so I don’t know yet if there is a reason for this (besides Blair’s preferences as an artist). I just find the “no, don’t make larger robots, make smaller people” concept to be interesting because it isn’t something that you typically see. Even in anime and manga the preference would be to use teens or younger people as the pilots. Sometimes, the imagination of an artist takes you places that you wouldn’t normally think to go.
The actual samurai of the title of the comic is Toshiro. Toshiro was the head of Intelligence for the spacecraft Naganata, but after an assassination attempt on him lead to the deaths of children instead, he left to pursuit his own life. At some point before then, genetic material was taken from him and the clone Hotachi was made. Now, Shiro (as he is nicknamed) spends his time with Homer, a family friend who had served with Toshiro’s father in the military, and his twin sister Gennin. When the actions of the story draw Toshiro back into the world of danger and intrigue, it is his sister who is against all of it.
Toshiro’s character is something standard in this genre. He is aloof and emotionally detached, trying not to get drawn back into his feelings for Velvet Black, his former lover and the woman who took his place as the head of Intelligence for the Naganata. He is practically a super-soldier, easily dispatching hordes of faceless mooks (unless the story requires otherwise, of course).
Despite these stereotypes, which honestly weren’t quite as stereotypical at the time that Blair made comics, he managed to create a complex story that draws in the reader. While some things will come across as dated to the contemporary reader, overall the quality of the writing and art hold up well for people who have not already read these comics. Anyone who is a fan of vintage cyberpunk stories, or who likes a good action story with an Eastern influence, will find things to enjoy in Barry Blair’s Samurai comics.
Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.
Check out last weeks' posts: Barry Blair 101 by Christopher Helton & Barry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton!
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