Lone Wolf and Cub Volume One:  The Assassin’s Road

Written by Kazuo Koike

Drawn by Goseki Kojima

Published by Dark Horse Comics (English Version)

Originally published in Japan in 1970, “Lone Wolf and Cub” is a seminal document of Japanese Comics (Manga). The story of an executioner turned assassin in 16th century Japan was hugely popular, becoming a best-seller and spawning a series of films, two television series, and inspiring artists and writers in Japan and around the world. Partially translated and released in the US in the 1980’s, it was not fully collected in English until Dark Horse Comics began releasing volumes in 2000.

Ogami Itto was the Shogun’s chief executioner until the treachery of the rival Yagyu clan robbed him of his position and sentenced him to sepuku. In defiance of the Shogun, Ogami became an assassin living in “Meifumado,” the Way of Demons.” He takes his only living family member, his infant son Daigoro, with him in his quest for vengeance. As such, he is called “Lone Wolf and Cub,” a peerless killer who will take on any mission for five hundred Ryo.

“Lone Wolf and Cub” is an epic story collected over twenty-eight volumes, but each volume is picaresque, discribing specific assassinations or encounters Itto and Daigoro have on their journey. Deeply beautiful and starkly violent, these stories are quintessential Japanese pulp. Like Ogami himself, they are a paradox. At once noble and at the same time murderous, they celebrate Japan’s Zen Buddhist warrior traditions while standing apart from them.

Koike’s writing details the lives of noble samurai, struggling peasants, and suffering prostitutes with a historian’s careful eye. Kojima’s work evokes Japan’s greatest artistic traditions. This is a manga where ultra-violence and gratuitous nudity are positioned directly beside deep philosophical questions and breathtaking landscapes.

“Lone Wolf and Cub” is not a comic for kids, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Volume One features nine stories of samurai action that perfectly introduces the reader to the soul of Koike and Kojima’s groundbreaking work. It was an important step in my own appreciation of the medium, and it is a great place to start if you’d like something a bit more serious in your comics reading.

Lone Wolf and Cub Vol. 1 is available digitally, in print from Amazon, or from your local comics shop.