Lone Wolf and Cub
Lone Wolf and Cub (子連れ狼 Kozure Ōkami) is a well-known gekiga or manga created by the writer Kazuo Koike and the artist Goseki Kojima. Its story led to the creation of six films starring Tomisaburo Wakayama, four plays, a television series starring Kinnosuke Yorozuya, and much more.
Lone Wolf and Cub chronicles the story of Ogami Ittō, the Shogun's executioner who uses the Dotanuki battle sword. He was disgraced by false accusations from the Yagyu clan and has been forced to take the path of the assassin. Along with his three-year-old son, Daigoro, they seek revenge on the Yagyū clan and are known as "Lone Wolf and Cub".
A formidable warrior and a master of the suiō-ryū|Suio Ryu|suiō-ryū, Ogami Ittō (拝 一刀), had become the Shōgun's executioner, the Kogi Kaishakunin, a position of high power used by the Tokugawa Shogunate (along with the oniwaban and the assassins) to enforce the will of the Shogun over the daimyō or domain lords. For those samurai and lords ordered to commit seppuku, the Kogi Kaishakunin would assist with their deaths by decapitating them to relieve the pain of cutting their own stomachs. As it was unthinkable for a person of lesser rank to act as Kaishakunin for a noble, the Kogi Kaishakunin was entitled and empowered to wear the crest of the Shogunate, in effect acting in place of the Shogun.
Shortly after Ogami Ittō's wife's childbirth with Ogami Daigorō (拝 大五郎), Ogami Ittō returned to find his wife Azami and all of their household brutally murdered, with only the newborn Daigorō surviving. They were ostensibly murdered by three former retainers of an abolished clan to avenge their lord who had been executed by Ogami Ittō. However, the entire matter was designed to disgrace Ogami Ittō by placing and then revealing an ihai (funeral tablet) with the shogun's crest on it in Ittō's family shrine (representing Ogami's wish for the shogun's death). This would make Ittō a criminal and thus forfeit his post. The set up was planned by Ura-Yagyū (Shadow Yagyu) Yagyū Retsudō (柳生 烈堂), leader of the Yagyū clan, in order to seize Ogami's post for the Yagyū clan.
The 1-year-old Daigorō was given a choice by his father: a ball or a sword. Had Daigorō chosen the ball, his father would have killed him, sending him to be with his mother; however, the child crawled toward the sword, and reached for its hilt. This signified that he would take the path of a rōnin, living with his father as "demons" – the assassin-for-hire team that would become known as Lone Wolf and Cub, vowing to eventually destroy the Yagyū clan to avenge his wife and his disgrace.
On meifumadō ("The Road to Hell"), the cursed journey for vengeance, Ogami Ittō and his son, Daigorō, encounter numerous adventures, encountering (and slaying) all of Yagyū Retsudō's children and eventually facing Retsudō himself. The first duel between Ogami Ittō and Yagyū Retsudō ran 178 panels -- one of the longest single fight-scenes ever published in comics.
Before his final duel with Yagyū Retsudō, Ittō was attacked by the last of the elite ninja of the Yagyū clan, the "Grass". His sword was tampered with earlier by a visit from a member of the Grass disguised as a sword polisher, causing Ittō's longtime dōtanuki sword to finally wear down and break during the Grass's final assault. He was inflicted with wounds that would ultimately be his demise against his battle with Retsudō. After eliminating each and every ninja, Ittō and his shattered dōtanuki were finally met with Retsudō and his spear. His will to end the Yagyū flowed through his soul, but his wounded and exhausted body would eventually leave Ittō to his fate. In the middle of the battle Ittō's spirit left his body after a lifetime of fatigue and bloodshed. Ittō was unable to destroy his longtime enemy and his walking of meifumadō had ended. The story finishes with Ittō's son, Daigorō, taking up Retsudo's spear and charging in fury. Retsudō opens his arms, disregarding all defense, and allows Daigorō to drive the spear into his body. Embracing Daigorō with tears, Yagyū Retsudō names him, "Grandson of my heart", closing the cycle of vengeance and hatred between the clans, and concluding the epic.
When Lone Wolf and Cub was first released in Japan in 1970, it became wildly popular (some 8 million copies were sold in Japan) for its powerful, epic samurai story and its stark and gruesome depiction of the violence during Tokugawa era Japan. The story spanned 28 volumes of manga, with over 300 pages each (totaling over 8,700 pages in all).
Lone Wolf and Cub was initially released in North America by First Comics in 1987, as a series of monthly, square-bound prestige-format black-and-white comics containing between 64 and 128 pages, with covers by Frank Miller, and later by Bill Sienkiewicz and Matt Wagner. Sales were initially strong, but fell sharply as the company went into a general decline. First Comics shut down without completing the series, publishing less than a third of the total series in 45 prestige-format issues. However, in 2000, Dark Horse Comics began to release the full series in 28 smaller-sized trade paperback volumes, completing the series with the 28th volume in 2002. Dark Horse reused all of Miller's covers from the First Comics edition, as well as several done by Sienkiewicz, and commissioned Wagner and Guy Davis to produce new covers for several volumes of the collections. Mike Ploog, Ray Lago and Vince Locke also contributed covers to the English translations of the series.
In 2002, a "reimagined" version of the story, Lone Wolf 2100 was created by writer Mike Kennedy and artist Francisco Ruiz Velasco with Koike's indirect involvement. The story, a post-apocalyptic take on the tale featured a few differences, such as a female cub and the setting, which ranged across the whole world. The story of Daisy Ogami, daughter of a renowned scientist; and Itto, her father's bodyguard and subsequent protector as they attempted to escape from the Cygnat Owari Corporation's schemes was not received as well as the original stories.
Dark Horse announced at the New York Comic Con that they have licensed Shin Lone Wolf & Cub, Kazuo Koike and Hideki Mori's follow-up to Lone Wolf and Cub, starring the famous child in the baby cart after the original revenge epic.
1. The Assassin's Road
8. Chains of Death
15. Brothers of the Grass
22. Heaven & Earth