Story & Art: Peach Momoko
Co-Script: Zack Davisson
Lettering: VC’s Ariana Maher
Cover Art: Peach Momoko
Variant Cover Artists: Peach Momoko; Gurihiru; Matías Bergara; Terry Dodson & Rachel Dodson; Alex Maleev; Audrey Mok; Humberto Ramos & Edgar Delgado; Matteo Scalera & Moreno Dinisio; Rickie Yagawa & Jordie Bellaire
Designer: Jay Bowen
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Release Date: August 3, 2022
If you’re interested in this comic, series, related trades, or any of the others mentioned, then simply click on the title/link to snag a copy through Amazon as you read the Demon Wars: Iron Samurai #1 Review.
Peach Momoko crafts a truly immersive experience, pulling the reader into the world of Japanese myth while maintaining a connection to the Marvel Universe.
Very minor spoilers follow.
DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 refers to itself as “the Marvel Universe like you’ve never seen it before.” So far this connection is tenuous with the sole link being the character Mariko Yashida, a love interest of Wolverine’s who first appeared in UNCANNY X-MEN #118. Beyond that DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 features all-new characters in a new environment in a new story. The Mariko Yashida Momoko introduces us to in DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 is the daughter of an oni, a Japanese demon, and the granddaughter of a sorceress. When the issue begins, she is “seeing weird stuff.”
DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 is rooted in Japanese history and myth. Students of these topics may recognize the ikai (spirit world; the next world), yokai (a class of supernatural entities or spirits), yoroi (Samurai armor), and the Yamato clan. Peach Momoko and Zack Davisson use these concepts as a base from which to launch into a brand new story, a kind of myth all its own.
Unsurprisingly, much of DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 is concerned with exposition and world-building. And even then, part of that world-building is through implication as the writers don’t go fully in-depth with all of the Japanese concepts at work here. There is not much character development beyond answering some basic questions about Mariko (her heritage, both real and mythical, makes up the bulk of that).
Ultimately it is the world-building that proves to be the most captivating. As the issue unfolds we’re led down a rabbit hole meant to appeal to our curiosity. The point of the first half of DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 isn’t to introduce the plot (though that is already being built in small pieces leading to a back half of the issue that is plot-heavy) but to surround us with a world that feels rich and expansive despite our only seeing the smallest pieces of it now. This is wildly successful, owing in no small part to the fact that Mariko herself is new to this world and we’re being introduced to it through her eyes.
The basic plot takes the form of a classic quest. Mariko, by virtue of her mythical heritage, is the one character that can put to right both the spirit world and the real world. To do that she must find an item (in this case the second head of a creature called Kigandoshi). And while quest stories sometimes fall victim to an imbalance between strength of character and plot (an inability to raise stakes because at a certain point outcomes are a foregone conclusion), the separation of the real and mythical worlds and how Mariko relates to them is already evident. She seems to have abilities in one that she does not have in the other and vice versa. These open up the possibilities for how she might resolve any conflicts along the way.
Peach Momoko’s art is often soft and ethereal. There’s also a kind of love embedded in it inexplicably. Those qualities are present in DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1, but they are used in contrast in a way that significantly contributes to world-building.
The first issue takes place in two worlds: real and mythical. The real world is very soft, but it is also quite drab. Momoko keeps to washed out purples and pinks except with Mariko herself who, in contrast, has plain white skin. She also feels softer and more delicate than the world she inhabits. Even as she tells us of her heritage from her mother and grandmother, it’s hard to believe she would follow in their footsteps in any way.
This disbelief goes completely out the window when Mariko enters the ikai. That world is radiant with seemingly every color under the sun. Mariko’s clothes change, both in fashion and color. Mariko herself is no longer white. The yokai are varied in appearance with no two being the same, and the colors Momoko chooses for each one tell us a little bit about them. The ikai, ironically, is not ethereal. But of the two worlds, it is the one that has that subtext of love.
It is very difficult to find a failing in DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1. If there is one, it is reliance on Japanese concepts that aren’t fully explained. This full review offers a very limited primer on some of them. But approaching the issue cold, a reader might need to look these things up (as I was). I don’t necessarily consider this a flaw, though, because inviting a reader to seek out knowledge is a wonderful consequence of some fiction. Momoko and Davission want you to feel immersed in this world, and part of that is satisfying your curiosity to learn more about it.
Visually the book is beautiful. It is 100% in the style of Peach Momoko so readers who don’t find the style appealing may be put off no matter how intriguing they find the story. This of course is not a flaw–simply something worth pointing out.
There are few comics I recommend unequivocally. DEMON WARS: IRON SAMURAI #1 is one of them.