Swordsmith Assassin, reviewed by Tim Hershey

Swordsmith Assassin, by Michael Alan Nelson and Ayhan Hayrula, BOOM! Studios

This series is based around a swordsmith, Toshiro Ono, looking to reclaim his Honor by reclaiming the swords that he created. Just for reference, I was a History major. For more reference, I enjoy Asian History. For entirely too much reference, I like Japanese History. A lot. And, I’ve read a lot of material on the Tokugawa Shogunate. Too bad I’m not commenting on the historical accuracy of this book.

I’m here to talk about the story and art. Neither of which excites me.

This is my first glimpse of a Nelson story, but I almost see this as two different stories. Sure, it’s spread out over 4 issues, but I don’t mean that. I mean, we start with one story line, don’t really finish it, then start the second story, which supersedes the first story for the last issue. And, sure, technically, the “second story” ends with the completion of the first, but they don’t act like a main story with a sub-plot that’s important. They act like two distinct stories. Now, without giving too much away (though, I will…), maybe I’m not romantic enough. Sword story is supplanted by love story. Really, I love love stories! Look at my movie collection or ask my Wife (who doesn’t like “chick flicks”). The romantic story is introduced parallel to the sword story, which looks good. But, I guess if we went with a straight “love interest dies, protagonist saves her Honor” story, it would be too formulaic. To avoid this, a twist is exposed on the last page of issue #3, which drives the action of #4. I almost felt as thought Nelson said, “I can’t be predictable! I need to introduce a twist!” So, he did. End of story. Cue rim shot.

I saw the trade’s John Cassaday cover, and knew the interiors wouldn’t look that good. I saw the covers by Denis Calero, and thought he would’ve been a great choice for the interiors (I’ve met Denis, and consider him a VERY underrated artist). Then I flipped through the book. Hayrula has an interesting style. I’m not quite sure what he’d be perfect for, but I don’t think this is it. He does a good job of giving all of the main characters distinct faces, but I did have problems with a few panels. In one panel of the first issue, Ono is attempting to fight a drunken samurai to reclaim one of his swords. Very quickly, the samurai proves that Ono is no swordsman. The samurai moves in for the kill, but because he is drunk, Ono is able to kill the samurai (the story acknowledges the importance of chance, so I am OK with that…). The problem comes from the panels. One panel shows Ono on the floor. The next shows the samurai’s foot, as though it is important. The next shows Ono’s blade through the samurai’s chest. I’m guessing that the samurai wobbled, which gave Ono enough time to strike. But, the storytelling fails, because the panel with the foot does not seem to indicate anything other than the samurai taking a step. It doesn’t show anything that might indicate he’s drunk, i.e., turning his ankle because he can’t keep his footing. This happens, again, twice, in the final issue. (Spoiler alert!) Ono is confronting his last enemy, who has dishonored his love. During the sword fight, both men are using a single katana. In one panel, the antagonist suddenly has a second blade, which, of course, gives him a great advantage. The next panel, you cannot see the second blade, and in the next panel its gone, while the samurai has both hands back on his katana. At the climax of the battle, Ono is mortally wounded, and drops his sword to his side as the samurai moves in to kill him. The samurai is standing in front of Ono, while Ono’s sword is on the ground at his side, in plain sight. The samurai raises his blade, and suddenly Ono’s blade bursts through the samurai’s chest, seemingly having taken a trip around the back of the samurai. (The love interest did it, of course.) I’m not entirely sure how anyone could have picked up the sword, moved around behind the samurai, and attacked him, without him knowing. Especially someone who wasn’t trained in fighting or sword fighting! It just doesn’t flow like it should. I’m no artist, and couldn’t point out good story-telling to save my life. But, bad story-telling tends to slap me in the face, because it pulls me right out of the story, since I have to go, “uhh, what just happened?”

If this had been an ongoing series, I don’t think I would be tempted to try to keep up with it. Although it is still possible there could be more stories (with that weird romantic twist, in there, it could definitely be built), I’m hoping there is no “need” to tell more of this story.

-Tim Hershey-

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