While I always hesitate to use the term “game-changer,” Samurai Jack was a huge step forward in what could be accomplished with cartoons in the early 2000’s. One of the most striking differences between Samurai Jack and other cartoons was its stoic hero and the heavy use of silence and ambient sound to tell the story. Jack didn’t talk a lot. Sometimes he never spoke a line of dialogue at all and the episodes were still powerful, moving, and action-packed. Samurai Jack #8 is all of those things. In many ways it goes further than what the cartoon could accomplish because the comic doesn’t have the benefit of actual sounds and music to immerse the reader in the world. It’s theater of the mind in its own way because we the readers have to insert the sounds for ourselves the way we would when reading dialogue.
Samurai Jack #8 is a standalone story between the first arc about the Rope of Eons and the forthcoming second arc that promises to take Jack to newer, stranger, and more emotional places than ever before. But like all silent warriors, Jack is troubled by the increasing amount of noise he encounters during his travels. All he wants is some peace and quiet – “Queace,” if you will – so he rents a capsule in large hotel to relax and regroup. (Also, well-played Jim Zub and Andy Suriano. Well played, indeed.) Unbeknownst to Jack, Aku plucks his capsule out of the hotel and shoves it into a crystal cavern where Jack’s distorted reflections manifest into reality, attacking the samurai as they’re wont to do. And that’s essentially all that happens. It’s a basic premise that’s lovingly reminiscent of the cartoon and shows that Jack, as a character, is just as strong a presence when words are unnecessary.
“Silence” in comic books is actually a bit misleading. If you want to get really philosophical about it, all comic books are silent. It’s not like you open an issue of Superman and suddenly there’s live music and pre-recorded dialogue ready to accompany the art. And if there is it’s either a gimmick or the voices in your head have taken over and you should really seek help. Nope, in comic books a “silent” issue, or book for that matter, means the absence of dialogue and narration to help convey the story. In this sense, a comic truly becomes a visual medium. With most comic books, especially superhero comics, we’ve come to rely on narration and dialogue to fill in the blanks, moving the ongoing plot along via the writer as he or she helps the reader put two and two together or gives some insight into the characters.
Silence is a sparsely used storytelling device because readers aren’t used to a specific form of reading that stems from these instances. While there is no dialogue, no narration to spell everything out for us, silent issues of comic books still require us to “read” by interpreting the subtlety and nuance of the artwork. The way a page is composed, the way a character stands or stares, the colors that embolden the art can tell a story just as effectively. Such is the case of Samurai Jack #8. Not a word is spoken and yet the plot is easy to figure out. You could chalk it up to simplicity, but it’s more about Zub and Suriano knowing that Jack doesn’t need heavy dialogue or narration. He’s always been the silent observer, speaking only when necessary. Other comics would provide narration to get inside Jack’s head, to spell out what the reader already knows by observing the page. Samurai Jack doesn’t need narration or thought bubbles. We see exactly what Jack’s feeling when he feels it. The look in his eyes is all we need to know what’s about to happen next.
It’s an issue that continues the innovative legacy of its cartoon predecessor and shows that Jim Zub and Andy Suriano aren’t messing around when it comes to staying faithful to Jack, the whack-a-doodle world he lives in, and the fans who love him.
Rating – 10/10
Final Thoughts: Can the silence of Samurai Jack be a book that gets published? Just saying, I would read that book.