I’ve written before about the long and mutually beneficial series of crossovers between “Usagi Yojimbo” and the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” In fact, you should go back and read my review of their last crossover since my thoughts on it haven’t changed in the intervening year. Though the story wasn’t all that great, it did feature some fantastic color art and was apparently pushed the amount of crossovers between the two series to critical mass, resulting in this “Complete Collection” that we’ve been graced with.
Having all of the Rabbit Ronin’s adventures with the Heroes in a Half-Shell is undeniably handy. If it also gets new fans to check out Usagi’s adventures then that’s even better. However, if you’re a longtime “Usagi” reader like me, then you likely already have the comics that make up the majority of this collection in your library already. That makes this collection more for completists than anyone else, though the couple of stories I haven’t read before are not without interest.
All of the stories are presented in order of publication, so that means “Turtle Soup and Rabbit Stew” is up first. It was originally published in “Turtle Soup,” an anthology series featuring “TMNT” stories from creators other than Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. It’s a goofy six-page bit that has Leonardo falling into Usagi’s world via one of those kooky time/space portals. Leo gets accosted by bandits while Usagi is accosted by ninja very close by. Just when you think they’re going to fight each other, “Usagi” creator Stan Sakai pulls the rug out from under the story turning it into one big goof. I’d complain, except it winds up being a nice way to wrap up a six-page story.
Next is “The Crossing,” from issue #10 of “Usagi Yojimbo,” way back when it was published by Fantagraphics. If I’m not mistaken this is probably the ONLY time a creator other than Sakai has written and illustrated one of Usagi’s adventures. After reading it, the cynic in me is inclined to think that after this story Sakai went, “Never again.”
That’s because while this story has a noble aim, Usagi relating an encounter he had with Leo in order to get two kids to be friends, the Rabbit Ronin is written out of character to the point of villainy. To wit: In Usagi’s flashback story he talks about the time that he chanced upon a sleeping priest in a straw hat and cloak by a river, grabbed his bow and arrow and then forced the priest to carry him across said river. Even though Laird tries to handwave Usagi’s behavior away at the beginning by having the character say that he was looking for challenges after finishing his training with a master swordsman, it still comes off as too outrageous. Moreover, it’s impossible for me to believe that Usagi would act this way after his training with Katsuichi as his noble teacher did a good job of drumming that arrogance right out of him.
In the story’s favor, it does lead to a decent fight scene between Usagi and the priest who *surprise* turns out to be Leo. I also liked Laird’s art as he does a good job of capturing the Rabbit Ronin’s anthropomorphic look in a different and more detailed style than Sakai has. Though Usagi and Leo reach an accord and the two kids learn to work together, it still doesn’t erase the awful taste the former’s very out-of-character actions leave in your mouth at the start of the story.
Following that story is “The Treaty,” originally published in the anthology “Shell Shock,” and we’re back to Sakai, who writes and illustrates the rest of the stories in this volume. It’s a ten-page story that has Leo falling into another one of those time/space portals, and being very nonchalant about it. Which is understandable since at this point in the character’s history this was probably a monthly, if not weekly occurrence for him. He winds up encountering Usagi as he’s being menaced by some Neko Ninja who are after the treaty he’s carrying for Lord Noriyuki. Recognizing Usagi from his previous adventures, Leo jumps into the fray to offer his assistance.
This story isn’t long enough to show off any real depth, but it does allow for some fun interaction between Usagi and Leo. Usagi is awestruck by Leo’s description of our world, while Leo gets to show off (trampled) pizza to Usagi before pulling off his now expected disappearing act. Even if the quality of the stories that preceded “The Treaty” was decidedly uneven, it’s nice to see how this one sets up a friendship between the two characters with its own set of quirks. A friendship that would play directly into the next story in this collection.
Now, I’ve already written about “Shades of Green” -- so if you didn’t click on the link above, feel free to go ahead and do it now. Aside from reiterating that it’s still one of the best crossovers in comics, I do want to add that reading “The Treaty” helps to make it even better. When I first read “Shades of Green” it acknowledged the previous Usagi/TMNT crossovers by establishing right out of the gate that Usagi and Leo had met before and were friends. I had no context to understand this, but was willing to accept it because it got us past the usual “heroes have misunderstanding, then fight” trope so common to these things. Reading it now, the story gains a little warmth from understanding that friendship and makes me just the tiniest bit sad that this story essentially represented the end of it.
That’s because Usagi met up with the rebooted TMNT in “Umazu” and that’s just one reason why that story is disappointing. The only things I can add here is that this edition of the story is missing the glossy paper the original story was printed on and the four-page fold-out scene of Usagi and the TMNT fighting Jei and his bandit lackeys together. So an already disappointing story is now that much more so in this edition.
It is worth noting that “The Complete Collection” also contains a ton of extras in addition to the above-mentioned stories. A good chunk of them are from the hardcover special edition of “TMNT/Usagi,” and they include Sakai’s notes on his creative process for the story along with the many, many variant covers that the comic featured. New to this edition are the covers from every previous Usagi/TMNT crossover and pinup illustrations from Sakai featuring Usagi and the Turtles.
Prior to picking up “The Complete Collection” the only stories I hadn’t read were “The Crossing” and “The Treaty.” While the former is notable for its, uh, let’s call it “historical significance” and the latter is a fun tale that helps solidify the relationship between the two series, I can’t say that they justify the $18 cover price by themselves. I’m a completist who doesn’t mind giving Sakai more money, but your mileage may vary. For those of you who haven’t read any of these stories, and are “TMNT” fans who keep wondering about this strange rabbit samurai who keeps showing up in their animated series then you’re going to find all the answers you need right here.