Today we will be looking at Issues #1-3 of The Samurnauts! Yes, that is a portmanteau of “Samurai” and “astronauts,” two occupations that are separated by hundreds of years of history… and space. The bearded men over at Unshaven Comics have bridged the gap between Feudal Japan and the future of intergalactic travel in The Samurnauts, and readers of a certain age will detect high levels of pop culture references scattered amongst its pages. Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s strap on our spoiler-free reading glasses and take a look at The Samurnauts!
To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I can describe the mission of The Samurnauts any more fully than the little blurb inside the front cover, so here it is: “Samurai-Astronauts- Led by an immortal kung-fu monkey master. Defending humanity from demon-dinosaurs and zombie cyborg pirates…IN SPACE!” That’s right, demon-dinosaurs and zombie cyborg pirates. Looks like The Samurnauts have their hands full! Luckily, their wise, simian sensei, Master Al is there to lead the way in a very Splinter-like role (you know, the giant rat from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).
The team itself is similar to the Voltron Force or the Power Rangers in that each dons a specifically colored suit, while having their own distinct personalities. Now, the premise of The Samurnauts is very over the top, and my first impression was that this was going to be a laugh-out-loud love letter to all things 1980s and 1990s. It’s definitely on point with regards to the latter, but despite it’s rather confounding nature, The Samurnauts manages to walk a very thin line between insanely ridiculous and oddly acceptable. In essence it’s a balancing act, and The Samurnauts tip-toes along the tight rope fairly well, with moments of comedy in an otherwise earnest work of fiction that doesn’t take itself too, too seriously.
This story arc deals with an old enemy of The Samurnauts called “The Dreadnuts,” the aforementioned zombie cyborg pirates, who have reemergeed in Neo-Japan II in the year 2496. Naturally, Neo-Japan II is actually a space station, which explains the whole astronaut thing. Without giving too much away, we learn that The Dreadnuts have a long standing conflict with The Samurnauts, and that the two share a distinct connection in their source of power. At the same time, tensions between certain members of The Samurnauts, and a conspiracy involving one member’s family threaten to tear the group apart. So yeah, there is actually a lot going on for a comic that prides itself on being somewhat unorthodox in its presentation. But then again, comics are often at their best when they’re way out in left field somewhere (I’m looking at you, King City).
The action takes place within three different time periods; the years 2496, 1591, and 1855, and while each time period’s version of The Samurnauts features different characters, Master Al is always their leader (he’s immortal, remember?!). In the first issue, Master Al describes his initial encounter with The Dreadnuts in 1591 with the very first team of Samurnauts. The sequences during this time period show The Samurnauts wearing more traditional Samurai regalia, although they still differ in color like The Samurnauts of 2496 making them easily distinguishable from one another. In the second issue we meet yet another team of Samurnauts, this time from the year 1855, where the members’ costumes differ from one another quite a bit. For example, one character retains a samurai-like appearance, while another wears armor and chain mail that is reminiscent of something you’d see in King Arthur’s court. I found this aspect of the comic interesting, as we see the evolution of the team through time, and how various cultures have had a place under the tutelage of the great Master Al. The Samurnauts of 1591 and 1855 are shown in flashback sequences and help to flesh out The Samurnauts‘ universe without being intrusive to the overall plot, which works well.
All that aside, one of the strengths of The Samurnauts is the actual way in which it flows from one time period to another. Everything always seems to move along smoothly, with thoughtful segues in between changes of setting that won’t leave the reader disoriented. “But what about the artwork?”, you might be asking. Well, it is within the “time travel” aspect of The Samurnauts that the art really shines. Whenever we are taken to a different time period, drastic changes in the style of the artwork are introduced, which is something that I can say I have not seen too much of in comics. In fact, The Samurnauts is a team effort unlike a lot of comics out there at the moment; I’ll explain how! In the “present day,” or 2496 segments, Marc Alan Fishman takes on the task of writing, drawing, and coloring, while both the 1591 and 1855 segments are written by Kyle Gnepper and feature art by Matt Wright. The 1591 segments are actually painted by Wright, and they look fantastic. In particular, there are a couple of splash pages in the first issue that are very well done.
Overall The Samurnauts is an interesting read, and just bizarre enough for you fringe readers out there. I personally felt that in terms of characterization and story, issue two is where the comic hits its stride, and by the end of the third issue the story started to gain a good momentum, with the issue ending on a high note. I’d like to see the Onisaurs in upcoming installments, although I don’t doubt that it will happen at some point. I’d also like to extend a personal thanks to the creators for the inclusion of the word “frak” in issue three (Starbuck, is that you?).
For all things Samurnauts check out Unshaven Comics’ website here, and make sure you donate to their current Kickstarter campaign! Do your part to support fellow fans, artists, and writers; remember, every little bit counts!
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