REVIEW: TOSHIRO / AUTHOR: JAI NITZ / ARTIST: JANUSZ PAWLAK / PUBLISHER: DARK HORSE / RELEASE DATE: JUNE 4TH
Once you start reading Toshiro, the new Dark Horse graphic novel from Jai Nitz (Dream Thief) and artist Janusz Pawlak, you'll want to blast through it as quickly as you can, while simultaneously trying to slow down and savour every panel of Janusz Pawlak's artwork. It's an immensely satisfying read that begins with a bang, and doesn't let up, even until the final panel.
When you reduce the plot to its basics, it sounds a little preposterous: a gunslinger teams up with a samurai automaton to battle zombies in a steampunk Victorian England. However, it works so very, very well. The story beginning in media res is, to me, always the mark of a confident storyteller. They're dropping you in the middle of everything, and trusting their writing is strong enough to allow you to catch up.
Pawlak's imagery is somewhere between the angularity of Frank Miller's Batman Returns work and the penny dreadful horrors of Kyle Hotz in the Billy the Kid's Old Timey Oddities series. It fits the story perfectly, allowing for a certain element of realism to creep in. There are rules to this universe, strange though they may seem.
The juxtaposition of minimalist panels, with nothing but a talking head, and full pages of detailed, cinematic artwork completely devoid of dialogue or narration lends an air of tension to the project. Terse conversations give way to ominous scenes of impending doom give way to furious action.
More than anything else, though, it reminded me of the Kazu Kibuishi graphic novel, Daisy Kutter. Much as with that book's steampunk setting, it exists in a world solely its own. While that book took from westerns and anime, and Toshiro operates in a samurai-meets-Quatermain milieu, they both stand on their own, and breathe fresh air into a genre in which you thought nothing new nor interesting could be done. If you thought zombies were played out, Toshiro proves you happily wrong, and raises you some robots.