When I first heard about “Swordsmith Assassin” from BOOM!’s marketing director, Chip Mosher, he assured me that it was a book that I would enjoy. The man was right. While the concept of a Japanese swordsmith becoming dissatisfied with his life as a maker of deadly weapons and wanting to undo the damage of his work isn’t entirely original, the execution in this opening issue is strong and sets the stage well for the rest of the series.
Toshiro Ono arrives in a military encampment in West Prussia in 1870 to retrieve one of his swords from a general who received it as a gift. All that the sword maker can offer in return is his story and this first issue has Toshiro tell it in a slow, steady rhythm. Michael Alan Nelson’s pacing is pitch-perfect as the story unfolds in a seemingly practiced, predetermined manner. Obviously, Toshiro has told this story several times before and the writing shows that.
Toshiro’s character is well drawn as his voice dominates the issue. It’s interesting to note how much his voice when telling the story differs from the man he talks about, demonstrating how much he’s changed over the years. Ayhan Hayrula’s artwork shows this well also, often cutting between the two time periods, highlighting the physical changes the man has undergone.
Hayrula’s artwork matches the script in making the slow, steady pacing of Toshiro’s story works. Hayrula uses large panels that act more as spot illustrations than comic panels in many instances and rarely does he make a misstep in choosing his images. Sometimes, his work looks a little too sterile, but that almost works with the material as still pictures with dynamic designs make the words of the story have a greater impact. Colorist Andres Lozano adds to the art greatly, using a color scheme of muted reds, blues, and browns effectively.
The only place where “Swordsmith Assassin” #1 fails is in the concept, which does seem familiar and the entire first issue is spent leading to a conclusion that readers can see a mile away. As a result, there’s less tension than the writers hope for. From Toshiro’s request at the beginning of the issue, the reasons why he makes it are easy to guess and an entire issue spent getting to that point is a little tedious.
However, as I said already, the execution of that journey is strong and worthwhile. Future issues will really determine how different and original this series is now that we’ve been told Toshiro’s origin, but if the storytelling is as good as it is here, it will be worth it no matter what.