Review by Karl Verhoven
The opening volume of Samurai: Heaven and Earth was sumptuous, artist Luke Ross and colourist Jason Keith making Ron Marz’s fantasy of a Japanese warrior searching for his lost love a graphic novel of elegance and beauty. Shiro’s journey over the first volume occupied a year, closing with Shiro almost retrieving Yoshiko from her new home in Versailles, only to be foiled by the treachery of Spanish nobleman Don Miguel Ratera Aguilar, in whose company Yoshiko remains. Having tracked her from Japan to France, Shiro’s not about to be put off by what he considers a minor setback.
With the exception of a few more interludes defining Shiro and Yoshiko’s relationship in the past, there is, thankfully, little messing with a successful formula. For all the changing locations, Marz’s plot is again straightforward, and although well handled, we know what to expect from Shiro no matter where he ends up. He’s too refined to be a swords first, questions after man, aware his nationality already marks him as someone to be noticed, but neither are there any great surprises to how he acts, with Marz telegraphing rather than foreshadowing. Shiro’s more inclined to indulge in conversation this time, with “well, which of you is to be next?” almost a catchphrase, but that’s the extent of his progress, although Marz does depart from formula to show Yoshiko’s passage and changing circumstances, devoting most of the third chapter to her.
For this we can be grateful as it lets Ross loose on locations we’d otherwise not see, and again his detailed figurative pages are one delight following the next. There’s not a page here that wouldn’t comfortably hang on a wall, Ross again pouring in the small objects and touches to bring the exotic locations to life and defining each member of the cast. The one change to his art is that it’s now coloured by Rob Schwager who chooses not to emphasise brightness as Keith had done. It’s an equally valid interpretation, but for most of the book the colouring is no longer as distinct, and it very slightly reduces the sculpted look of the figures. Dan Jackson also contributes and while to some extent dictated by the venue, his solo work on the final chapter restores the light.
A continuation was tentatively suggested, but never materialised, and that’s for the best as dilution would have been inevitable had we been given more. There is a definitive ending here, one that’s fitting and satisfying, leaving Samurai: Heaven and Earth as a compact two volume treat.