ToshiroIn the Dark Horse press release for Toshiro, author Jai Nitz describes his work as a horror graphic novel that “…bends and blends genres to make something altogether new”. He wrote, “Janusz and I wanted to play with Victorian steampunk, alternate history, Lovecraftian monsters, and the magic of Tezuka’s Astro Boy to tell a story…”. Nitz and his partner, artist Janusz Pawlak, certainly managed to mash up a diverse array of influences to construct something unique in Toshiro. However, despite a successful execution of this premise, I found myself somewhat unsatisfied with the outcome, for reasons that I entirely attribute to personal preferences.

I rarely read introductions for graphic novels. Publishers typically hire another comics writer or critic to talk up the book you hold in your hands, as if already holding it and being ready to dive in wasn’t quite enough. Even though I was ready to completely ignore the two pages of introduction, something caught my eye. I noticed that the introduction was written by the author himself. Something about that intrigued me, and instead of cutting to the chase, I lingered in the foreword, learning exactly how this book came to be. Interestingly, Nitz described a somewhat unusual process: Janusz Pawlak had drawn the whole comic before Nitz had put any words to it. I believe that this process may have hampered the final product; while the art evokes a definitive mood, I felt the mood drowned out the story.

Toshiro, the titular character, is a mechanical samurai—a surprisingly soulful automaton with enigmatic origins powered by a type of mystical steam engine. His partner, an American troubleshooter and adventurer named Quicksilver Bob, also possesses a mysterious past. Together, the pair are trapped in Manchester, fighting off an unstoppable hoard of not-so-mindless zombies house-to-house while searching for the source of the weird invasion.

Pawlak’s Victorian horror-show is a dark, broody, and toothed affair. Inspiration from Mike Mignola, Paul Grist, and the aforementioned Tezuka are quite evident as blockish faces, husky torsos, and triangular blasts of purple energy dominate the stark panels. The Manchester of Toshiro is an obscure place, inhabited by black forces, gloomy terror, and shadowy motives lurking just beyond the edges of perception. The Lovecraftian milieu was nailed perfectly in this genre-bend, and yet despite sticking the tone, I couldn’t shake the nagging ambivalence I felt about the plot and dialogue.

I understand the appeal of this book. If you like Hellboy (and I really like Hellboy), picking up Toshiro seems like a no-brainer. However, the script, while serviceable, suffered from a distinct terseness and lack of excitement. Most of the characters, already murky motivations, seemed to be made even more unfathomable by the stifling blackness. I found the mechanical samurai to be the only relatable character; Quicksilver Bob was a dull, well-tread, late-period Clint Eastwood type of broody loner, and none of the other characters seemed particularly necessary other than to move the plot along. While it could be argued that this is a fairly straightforward exercise in grim-dark, Toshiro‘s flavor of grim-dark left me unsatisfied and craving something sans oppressive hopelessness. Nevertheless, Toshiro would probably be a good pick for fans of gothic horror, steampunk, and gore-soaked, psychological action-thrillers. I do hope that other readers might get more out of this than I did.

by Jai Nitz
Art by Janusz Pawlak
ISBN: 9781616555290
Dark Horse Comics, 2014

  • Garrett Gottschalk

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Garrett Gottschalk is an adult reference librarian at the Elmwood Park Public Library, Chicagoland, Illinois. He grew up on the great plains of Kansas, where he enjoyed subscriptions to Captain America, Thor, and Mad Magazine. After a fantasy detour during high school, he re-discovered comics of all flavors in college, and he currently spends his workdays ordering and promoting graphic novels (and music, video games, assorted non-fiction, etc) for the library, among other programming, outreach, and educational activities. Besides reading comics, Garrett enjoys spending time with his amazing wife, brewing and drinking beer, getting out of the country once in a while, gaming, rock shows, and organizing tabletop RPGing in Chicago as a volunteer community representative for Paizo Publishing. His mustache is a labor of love, and has been with him in spirit his entire life.

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