Remembering “Silent Interlude”

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It was the winter of 1984 that Marvel Comics and creator Larry Hama quietly let loose one of the most significant pieces of media of the entire 80’s craze.

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Seeing as the massive and ridiculous GI Joe movie is #1 at the box office this week, I felt a look back at “Silent Interlude” was in order. The ninja aspects of the Joe property is perhaps he biggest reason the “Real American Hero” version of Joe has endured for a quarter century and is now entrenched in a new generation of kids.

The 80’s comic and cartoon tandem was a pretty shameless one-two-punch toy selling juggernaut. It would have been an insufferable piece of kid-corrupting consumerism except for a few things: the toys were cool as hell, the comic had all sorts of maturity to it, and in it’s second year it got a major boost from an injection of shinobi steroids!

The commando ace Snake Eyes had been the coolest character of the series since its inception. The enemy’s counter, evil white ninja Storm Shadow, was a welcomed addition. But in issue #21 of the comic, Larry Hama upped the ante – he gave them a mutual pedigree of ninjutsu training and an intertwined past. The rest is history.

‘History’ also describes the issue itself, which breaks every rule of ‘kiddie books’ – using no dialogue or exposition whatsoever to reveal a treacherous night-op rescue mission in a ninja-infested castle. It’s a storytelling triumph, and gave the otherwise commercial-oriented comic book all sorts of artistic credibility. It’s a certified classic, studied by artists and writers in training, and should be owned by any self-respecting ninja fan. Don’t overlook this…

Read more: besides this great wiki, read a summary (and dig around for tons of figure pics) here, a nice anniversary tribute here, get some great behind-the-scenes creator info here, and another good blog post here.

But I think the coolest way to experience this seminal piece of 80’s ninja history is to find the reprint and matching action figure pack, seen here!

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With this handy-dandy self-contained adventure kit, you can read the amazing comic, and act it out with action figures in the bathtub, just like I do...

KAGEMARU manga covers

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Mitsuteru Yokoyama is probably the second most prolific creator of crossover ninja properties next to Shirato Sanpei. Both Kagemaru of Iga and Masked Ninja Akakage expanded from their pulp roots to multiple incarnations in anime and live action film/television.

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I’m sure every kid in 1960’s Japan wanted to be Kagemaru – the whirlwind-summoning teen of Iga. But for me, it’s Yokoyama’s rogues gallery of villains that shows the true originality of character design. For what it’s worth, I actually dislike the unhooded Kagemaru as a design… But I do love that angular hood when he masks up!

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LOTS more of these coming, stay tuned…

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Osamu Tezuka’s ninja

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It’s ComiCon week here in SoCal, so I’ll be posting a lot of manga and comics stuff over the next few days. We’ll start things with the king – the emperor? – the ultimate genius?  Hmm, I just don’t have the art theory vocabulary to do Osamu Tezuka justice, so I won’t even try.

So here’s a cover and splash page from his 1960 manga Ore wa Sarutobi da! (I Am Sarutobi!), a re-imagining of shinobi kid’s hero Sarutobi Sasuke:

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Special thanks to Eddie Mort!

Airborne combat in LEGEND OF KAMUI

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With the movie pending, I’m re-reading and re-loving Shirato Sanpei‘s second run of Kamui manga. The godfather of ninja comics debuted the character in 1964, then re-imagined the property as a more grown up and severe manga in the 80’s. Kamui Gaiden was a critical and financial hit, crossed-over into anime, and inspired the live action film coming this year. Eclipse Comics made history when they published a 37 issue run in the U.S. as The Legend of Kamui: A Genuine Ninja Story – the first such importation of a Japanese title to our shores.

Here are some terrific combat panels from that run. Sanpei really had a knack for movement, and loved these leaping and tumbling attacks. Despite the amount of dynamic action, you can still ‘read’ what is happening, clearly see the techniques at work and how the killing blows are delivered. Aspiring artists have plenty to learn here:

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The grocery list of things I love about this series is long indeed. Kamui is the archetypal skilled loner on the run, trying to leave behind his warrior life but needing those resented skills to survive constant pursuit. It’s a great structure, and over it Sanpei laid some emotionally challenging stories. You could never get too attached to a character, never too comfortable with a setting.

I also love characters with limited arsenals used in increasingly innovative ways. Kamui’s signature short sword and reverse grip technique dispatched 90% of his enemies. A few kunai or shuriken here or there, sometimes a grapple line, were pretty much it.

Eclipse released 37 issues total, starting in 1987. It was late in the ninja craze here, and rarely did the signature black suit appear on covers, so the title may have failed to find the audience it deserved. These gems can be found cheap on eBay, even in complete runs.

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The first translated story arc, an incredible parable of struggling fishermen and the inescapability of one’s destined trade, was later collected into two trade paperbacks by VIZ, with reduced art. I prefer the originals, which often had liner notes on the historical subject matter or the artist’s craft.

Visionary character design

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 4

Mining through various Japanese fan blogs brings about two things in me:

1.) I soooo wish I could read kanji…

and

2.) I find amazing scans of vintage manga covers, like the below!

I believe these are all by the godfather of ninja manga Shirato Sanpei. Absolutely awesome.

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Check out the line-up of ninja thugs in back - I love that bent angled hood design.

Any Japanese readers wanting to send translations of these covers, especially if an artist is listed, we’ll reward you handsomely.

Path of the Assassin, we’ll miss you…

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0

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Koike and Kojima’s astounding Path of the Assassin has ended with volume 15, released last month from Dark Horse Comics. To say the abrupt ending is unsatisfying would be an understatement, have to wonder if this was cancelled in Japan prematurely back in the day. Doesn’t seem like a deliberate, or strategic, ending from either an editorial or emotional point-of-view.

I’m really going to miss this series, but one advantage to a series of graphic novels with a terminus is people tend to put their used collections up on eBay and Craigslist, so it’s a great opportunity to score it as a complete set if you don’t already own it all.

Adios Hanzo…

Read some nice volume-by-volume reviews here.

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