Overview

Blood-Stained Sword #1

Review

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Blood-Stained Sword #1

Credits

  • Words: Dan Wickline
  • Art: Ben Templesmith
  • Inks: Ben Templesmith
  • Colors: Ben Templesmith
  • Story Title: Blood-Stained Sword
  • Publisher: IDW Publishing
  • Price: $7.49
  • Release Date: Jan 26, 2005

Guided through a futuristic city by the principles of the distant past, a neo-samurai seeks to restore honor to his dead father’s name.

2023 A.D. is a dark, grim time. Globe-spanning corporations have replaced the bonds and affiliations of clans. Greed and profit have replaced honor and loyalty as virtues. Despite this, a handful of powerful families keep the centuries-old tradition of the Bushido alive by passing the way of the samurai on to their children. When Kenji Matsushita, the only son of one such family, learns of his father’s death by seppuku, he knows his father couldn’t have so disgraced himself that ritualistic suicide was necessary. Seeking the truth, Kenji travels to Seattle and his father’s company. There he’s told by high-ranking executives that his father had killed himself after being presented with evidence that he’d been embezzling millions. This, too, is difficult for Kenji to accept, and with the aid of Andrea, his father’s secretary, he digs until he discovers the truth—one that only his skills as a samurai can save him from.

Nothing is closer to the Warrior archetype than the samurai is. With action both grizzly and graceful, strong characters filtering difficult decisions through their own complex moral codes, and a heavy enough dose of theme to keep readers thinking, samurai narratives make for great storytelling and are particularly suited to the comics medium. And if the swordsman story is set in a dystopian, cyberpunk near-future—well, how could that possibly go wrong?

Somehow, Dan Wickline’s script manages to find a way. To his credit, he possesses a fine sense of rhythm, maintaining a crisp, tight pace throughout and fitting the whole story into 48 pages, where some would have needed twice as much, and still others would’ve decompressed it over six issues. However, this positive is also a negative, as 48 pages seem too few for a "feature length" story such as this. The effect is a script that, despite having a definite beginning, middle and end, feels gutted and undernourished.

Wickline presents a cast of compelling characters, each instantly giving off the vibe of a great back-story. However, he fails to develop any of his characters beyond the introductions and a few details. They remain flat because none of the interesting relationships set up in the script are explored dramatically beyond casual mentioning. Much like the characterization, the plot, too, is straight-ahead and uninspired. In the same way that character is left unexplored, Wickline opts for a storyline that has neither a twist nor turn. Every beat, though falling naturally, falls predictably. Add choppy, stilted dialogue to the mix and the final judgment on the script isn’t good. Intriguing premise, middling execution.

Nevertheless, despite the shortcomings of the script, Blood-Stained Sword’s real star is Ben Templesmith. The sort of artist about whom readers can’t be indifferent, either loving or despising his loose, broken style, Templesmith leaves a much more memorable stamp on the story than Wickline. The sparse story and 48 glossy pages give him plenty of room to showcase his skills, and for the most part he does this with considerable success. The painted cover is beautiful and evocative, as are the mixed media effects of the opening splash page. The remaining 47 pages display his signature style. There’s verve and urgency in the line work, and the images have a frenetic economy about them that evokes both the moodiness and atmospherics of European comics and the off-the-page energy of manga. Only occasionally does the reader come across a Templesmith clunker—a slap-dash panel not worthy of his talent—but on the whole the quality of the art had me lamenting that the potential for a great comic had been squandered because the writing couldn’t match the artwork.

In the end, my frustration with this comic is that it reads less like a comic and more like a film treatment illustrated on paper. Readers may groan, but some Hollywood exec is salivating over Blood-Stained Sword.

-Dexter K. Flowers

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