Lone Wolf and Cub Part 2: Revenge in the Epic Narrative Tradition

In this week’s Iconographies Shawn O’Rourke continues his series of features on Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima’s Lone Wolf and Cub. This installment offers a deeper appreciation of the 28 volume story cycle as an example of the epic genre in literature. Drawing on the work of such literary scholars as Timothy B. Shutt and Raymond Queneau, O’Rourke illustrates how the grim depiction of a masterless samurai wandering the land in search of revenge, redeems not only the samurai code of honor, but the medium of comics as well.

In short, Lone Wolf and Cub conforms with great accuracy to Shutt’s model of what constitutes an epic. With a carefully reasoned argument, O’Rourke examines the magnificent literary panorama of the Lone Wolf and Cub series, highlighting the ways in which the series presents as a literary genre.

But a deeper theme can be found in O’Rourke’s piece. In “Revenge in the Epic Narrative Tradition”, O’Rourke confronts a perennial question in both comics journalism and comics scholarship. Succinctly put, O’Rourke wrestles with considerations of sociocultural mechanics. By what mechanism has literature come to exclude the possibility of comics? O’Rourke correctly observes that although Lone Wolf and Cub properly meets all Shutt’s formal requirements of an epic genre, the labeling of the series as an epic is often met with surprise, often by its most ardent supporters. This surprise is rooted in an unconscious unwillingness to concede the possibility of comics as literature.