Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Samurai Squirrel #2

Samurai Squirrel #2, 1987, Spotlight Comics
writer/penciller: Kelley Jarvis
inkers: Brian Waters & Tom Ahearn
letterer: Kurt Hathaway
consulting editor: Neil Hansen
managing editor: Jim Main
editor/publisher: Richard Maurizio

Despite their similar titles, Samurai Squirrel is not related to yesterday's Samurai Penguin. In fact, each of the comics I've read in celebration of the forthcoming TMNT release have been sequentially establishing the true potential of the Turtles' lineage. Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters was simply unoriginal parody, while the aforementioned Samurai Penguin told a story all its own, yet retained a satirical subtext that prevented it from achieving its own merit, particularly when one of the penguin characters broke the fourth wall and talked to the readers for the sake of a static gag. Samurai Squirrel actually abandons all of this baggage by positioning itself on another world -- radioactive origins and obligatory relationships with humans simply aren't necessary. Indeed, this samurai is scurrying up his own tree.

In this second issue, the Samurai Squirrel, an albino rodent known as Nato-San, has ventured into the lair of the giant spider Silverback to rescue a captured baby bird. The "heroic nut-eater" defeats the arachnid and returns the birdling safely in exchange for aerial transportation to the City of Sorrow, Nato's next stop in his quest to avenge his brother's death. There, a restaurant owner laments that his daughter could be kidnapped if he cannot pay the taxes demanded by the local mob, the same fiends that may have killed Nato's brother. The Samurai Squirrel agrees to help, which betrays an interesting theme throughout this issue. If our hero's journey toward revenge is frequently interrupted by the dire circumstances of the common man, er, animal, he may never achieve satisfaction, despite his unrivaled ability to aid others facing similar tragedies. Truly, such strife isn't expected of a story starring a bunch of talking animals.

Indeed, creator Kelley Jarvis appears to utilize this genre to its utmost, telling a coming of age allegory about life and death, revenge and destiny. Although I understand that this chapter was primarily transitional, from the establishment of her characters and their challenges to the climax of her first story arc, I appreciated its sheer momentum; Nato-San is rarely in one place for very long, and, further, his journey reveals the wonder of his mysterious world. Despite the seriousness of Nato's mission, Jarvis establishes a true sense of innocence, and while her illustrations aren't visually overwhelming, the raw confidence of her art reveals what a Ninja Turtles spin-off would feel like as an unashamed fantasy. This issue is as much about nature as it is a natural leap from what Eastman and Laird offered in their original gritty urban fairy tale.

However, and interestingly, both Samurai Penguin and Squirrel, while retaining the "martial arts animal" motif, abandoned the group dynamic/brotherly banter that made the Turtles so accessible by all. Even kids "too cool for comics" dug Michelangelo's athletic edge and love for pizza! Like a true samurai, this squirrel is in it alone, thus readers have only one opportunity to connect with him on any meaningful level. Perhaps this is why Jarvis puts her hero in the path of needy civilians, to assert an availability to all. Alas, the test of time has revealed the true success, or lack thereof, of these efforts. Still, at least the Samurai Squirrel can proudly claim that he was the sole master of his destiny, with a self-sufficiency that honored his masters and bested his peers. A real ronin rodent, whose story was simply too tough a nut to crack.