Janusz Pawlak and Jai Nitz join forces to bring us an exciting graphic novel that doesn’t seem to fit into one particular genre. Toshiro is the tale of an autonomous steam-powered samurai that battles against an army of reanimated bodies; it’s a mixed bag of steampunk and Lovecraftian horror, with a bit of mystery and a whole lot of action. If that doesn’t get you excited about this book, I’m not sure what will! The story has our hero Toshiro partnered up with famed American adventurer Quicksilver Bob, both of whom are sent to Manchester, England to scout out what is happening in the industrial city. Their investigation leads to them discover that the city has been overrun by jellyfish-like beings from another dimension that can reanimate dead corpses, and it appears that all of Manchester has been wiped out by these creatures. Our two protagonists must race against the clock to figure out what is actually happening in Manchester before the British Military blows the entire city up because – as we all know – when in doubt, kill it with fire.
Newcomer Janusz Pawlak is a name I didn’t recognize when I started reading this book, but by the time I finished it, he was added to my list of artists to keep an eye on. His art fits this story perfectly. His use of muted colors and heavy inks make the Victorian Steampunk version of Manchester feel like the dirty industrial town; the cobblestone roads and stonework buildings really come alive. It’s not all dull colors, though; throughout the book, Pawlak’s use of vibrant colors really add to setting the mood or tone of a panel. Whenever we get a glimpse of the “jellyfish” and the evil world they come from, Pawlak uses varying shades of purple to remind us that this ancient evil is from another more sinister world. It’s a nice contrast to the dull colors used for the physical plane that Manchester resides in. We get hints of blue and silver when the light hits Toshiro’s metal frame, reminding us that he is a mechano-samurai unlike anything this world has seen. Of course, when Toshiro draws his sword, there is heavy use of red when the blood starts flowing.
Jai Nitz does a great job bringing the characters of this story to life. I particularly enjoyed the dynamic between the two protagonists. The banter between them occurs very naturally: you get a feel that they both don’t quite trust each other, but having been paired together only a few days prior to the events of the story, they need to learn to trust fast. The rest of the characters are built up nicely, and the more you learn about them, the more you start to realize that, like Pawlack’s depiction of Manchester, the characters themselves are just different shades of grey. There are no good guys and bad guys – everyone has an agenda, and Nitz does a fantastic job giving all the major stakeholders some nice moments of exposition.
Surprisingly, I learned from the preface that Janusz Pawlak presented Jai Nitz with the completed story and was looking for some creative input, but this book does not feel like a one-sided affair. Both creators bring a lot to this book, and it really shows in the finished product. The story and action build naturally, with lots of tense moments. There are brief cuts that show how the survivors of Manchester as well as the British army are dealing with the horror they face, and we even get to see some Toshiro’s history and the steampunk world that he lives in.
I picked this book up without knowing much about it; it had a robot samurai on the cover at the end of what seemed like a bloody battle which was good enough for me (but I’m easy to please). But being published by Dark Horse, I figured I would take a chance as they have been putting out a lot of great original books lately. I was definitely not disappointed. Jai Nitz and Janusz Pawlak have created an exceptional story and laid the groundwork for what will hopefully be a second volume in the future. I really can’t recommend this book enough, it has a great story backed up by some phenomenal art. If you’re a fan of other Dark Horse books like B.P.R.D., Hellboy, or Lord Baltimore, then add this to your stack this week (or whenever you see it) – you won’t regret it.