Lone Wolf and Cub
Author: Kazuo Koike
Artist: Goseki Kojima
Publisher: Dark Horse Manga
In the first story of Lone Wolf and Cub, the titular character stands on his son’s baby cart as it rockets down a mountain while attempting to avoid assassins and a hawk that wants to rip out his eyes. The comic starts off with a bang and never really slows down.
Lone Wolf and Cub takes place in Tokugawa, Japan. The Lone Wolf, Ogami Itto, was the Shogun’s Executioner, but he lost his position after being framed for insulting the Shogun. Yagyu Retsudo, the head of the Shadow Yagyu clan, sought to control key posts within the empire, including Ogami’s. In addition to framing Ogami, Retsudo murdered Ogami’s wife and destroyed his family’s estate. Ogami’s one-year-old son, Daigoro, barely survived the attack.
Retsudo successfully discredited Ogami, but the former executioner refused to cooperate. Despite being ordered to perform seppuku (ritual suicide) on both himself and his son, Ogami refused and fled Edo (the Tokugawa era name for Tokyo). To survive, he became a nomadic assassin. His son Daigoro not only followed his father everywhere on their travels across Japan, but he even took part in some of the assassinations performed by his father.
While the stories are primarily concerned with Ogami’s assassinations, his efforts to destroy Retsudo and his family are always lingering in the background. This simple premise is the basis for one of the most acclaimed and popular samurai manga of all time.
The story can be best described as kinetic. Gene Kannenberg Jr. stated in 500 Essential Graphic Novels that the story “flows at an incredible pace. The stories are jumpy, edgy, and exciting.”
While the action in the comic is remarkable, it is the relationship between Ogami and Daigoro drive the story. Koike’s commitment to character development was paramount. In the appendage of the first novel, Koike stated: “Characters carry comics. If a character is well created, the comic becomes a hit.”
Koike and Kojima were also focused on creating a realistic world for the characters to inhabit. They wanted their Tokugawa Japan to be as historically accurate as possible. Their attention to detail is remarkable. Reading Lone Wolf and Cub could be best described as Akira Kurosawa in comic book form. The comic could best be described as cinematic. It’s not surprising that Kojima created graphic novels based on Kurosawa’s movies after Lone Wolf and Cub.
Kazuo Koike was not only the creator of Lone Wolf and Cub, he also created Samurai Executioner, Lady Snowblood, Color of Rage, Crying Freeman and many others. In addition to creating comics he created a golf magazine, hosted a television show in Japan, and played a key role in adapting six movies based on Lone Wolf and Cub. In 2004, he, along with Goseki Kojia, became members of the Eisner Awards’s Hall of Fame. Koike passed away in 2019 at the age of 82.
Goseki Kojima began working as a comic artist in 1967 with his series Donjinki. In 1970, his collaboration with Koike began with the first issue of Kozure Okami (Lone Wolf and Cub). He later went on to serve as a consultant on Manga Japan. Before his death, he was creating manga of Kurosawa’s movies.
Movies and Television
Lone Wolf and Cub inspired six movies and a Japanese television series. The movies have been widely considered as some of the best movie adaptations of any comic book. You can find the movies on Amazon Prime and Apple TV, but it is not easy to secure copies of them on DVD and Blu Ray.
It should also be noted that Disney+’s series The Mandalorian is clearly inspired by Koike’s and Kojima’s books. In the show, Din Darjin, a Mandalorian bounty hunter, travels with a child (aka Baby Yoda) searching for the kid’s home. Remarkably, I have not seen any reviews that make the connection between The Mandalorian and Lone Wolf and Cub. Despite its acclaim, Lone Wolf and Cub are still not well known in the United States, and the fan community is quite small compared to other comics. That may be why so many critics have missed the fairly obvious connection.
Where to find Lone Wolf and Cub
Dark Horse Manga currently publishes Lone Wolf and Cub. They have published 12 omnibuses and 28 shorter graphic novels of the long-running series. As always, check your local comic book store to see if they have any copies available.
It is available in paperback, kindle, and on ComiXolgy. Much of Lone Wolf and Cub has been available in the past on comiXology Unlimited. The prices and availability of the omnibuses on Amazon can vary widely. They are often less expensive if you buy them in a digital format. I am going only to include links to the omnibuses.
Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 1
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 2
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 3
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 4
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 5
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 6
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 7
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 8
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 9
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 10
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 11
- Lone Wolf and Cub Omnibus Vol. 12