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If the cute and cuddly dancing penguins in Happy Feet make you want to puke, might I suggest this antidote – Samurai Penguin #1

April 23, 2012

What’s that? You’ve never thought of the adorable waddling denizens of the Southern Pole as solitary Japanese warriors? You’ve never considered that flightless birds — which gave such devious inspiration to Oswald Cobblepot — could be capable of grasping a sword, what with their utter lack of opposable thumbs?

Samurai Penguin is there to fill this unforeseen void. Written and drawn by co-creators Don Vado and Mark Buck (and published in 1986 by Slave Labor Graphics), it’s a winning depiction of Antarctic society, one where the guileless and care-free penguins are protected from assorted threats by an honor-bound caste of fighting birds in full Samurai regalia, as including the eponymous hero. And what a hero he is. Even penguin-hungry sharks are no match for righteous arrows fired by this taciturn champion:

(The penguins in the top panel look like they’d fit right in on a 1930s Nazi propaganda poster. Nazi Penguin.)

Every hero has to have a wise old mentor, one whose kindly words offer solace from the unrelenting challenges faced by SCREW IT LET ME SIMPLY REITERATE THAT THESE ARE PENGUIN SAMURAI:

I can’t say that this first issue offers much in the way of deep characterization, but I’m sure that wasn’t its aim. This is a light-hearted independent book and should be read as such. That said, I did enjoy seeing how sides were drawn in this frozen world. There’s sort of an Antarctic Masters of Evil formed in this premier issue, with a walrus with an eye-bisecting facial scar (of course) leading an unruly mob of gulls, seals and sharks that all have a bone to pick with this pain in the ass penguin:

This comic is roughly 1000x better than Reagan’s Raiders, and far better captures the sought-after independent vibe that that book whiffed on COMPLETELY. (For that matter, it’s also far less obtuse than the good-in-a-different-way Flaming Carrot.) Characters break the fourth wall a bit too much for my personal taste, but the art is clean and energetic and, yes, entertaining. You could do a lot worse than Samurai Penguin.

The series only lasted eight issues. Perhaps there’s a Lone Wolf and Cub spinoff still spinning around out there in the ether. Lone Penguin and Chick or something. We can dream.

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