Misha Burnett’s Endless Summer has 17 days to go! In the meantime, enjoy this piece that is probably the longest anyone has written on Reggie Byers’s Shuriken in years…
One of the weird indie comic title I’ve gotten into fairly recently has been Reggie Byer’s Shuriken.
The basic concept is that a young Japanese woman is a professional bodyguard for a firm that offers special protection and assassination services–she has moral qualms about killing, only opting for protection gigs, and this ultimately puts her at odds with her organization.
From what I’ve gathered, Shuriken was a pretty successful and well-loved property as far as indies go. The main thing it had going for it was that it was one of the first Amerimanga [it was written and drawn by a weeb who was also working on a licensed Robotech title]–when more Japanese manga and better Amerimanga became more readily available in the late 80s and early 90s, Shuriken was probably easily overshadowed.
It’s hard to say “Shuriken is good” today and really mean it, even though I really enjoy it. Byer’s art is not great [though it’s certainly middle-of-the-pack to above average when it comes to B&W indies if you look at them as a whole], and his writing serviceable at best [though miles above some of today’s superstars… looking at you, Bendis!]
The first two Shuriken series by Byers have a certain charm, though. It may be the sort of cringy charm that comes from it literally just being an OC of an 80s weeb with just enough talent to pull it off, but it has a charm nonetheless.
Really, I think the main appeal of Byers’s Shuriken is that, setting everything else aside, Kyoko is someone that you would like to know and enjoy spending time with: she’s cute, fun, and a good, caring friend–SHE is charming, and that’s kind of enough to carry it.
After Byers sold the rights to Malibu/Eternity, Shuriken gets farmed out–Volume 1 [Victory Comics] peters out [there’s a cover for a Shuriken #9 and an entry at MyComicShop, but they’ve confirmed that in the 15 years they’ve kept track, they’ve never come across a copy], Blade of Shuriken [Eternity] ends after its first real arc with issue 5, and the cliffhanger in Shuriken Team-Up #1 is never resolved.
Shuriken relaunches with the Shuriken: Cold Steel series. While the art is better in most objective senses, it abandons the Amerimanga style and loses much of the charm and emotion that Byers’s rough designs conveyed. The writing [S.A. Bennett], while marginally better, feels like a more generic 80s action comic–it loses its weebness, and at the same time, Shuriken loses her warmth. After the events of Blade of Shuriken, she’s turned into a surly layabout who’s managed to alienate her friends and blow through her wealth. She’s a very different Kyoko from the loving, caring woman who is there for her friends and family to laugh and cry with. Frankly, she’s kind of a bitch.
The third issue has a guest writer, and Shuriken plays a small role in a team story [feels like a backdoor pilot?], and I haven’t read the second half of the series yet, so maybe it gets better?
Ironically, one of the first letters in the letters column of Cold Steel complains to Eternity about starting a new Shuriken series with so many of of their other series [including two of their Shuriken series] left unfinished.
Cold Steel cites the last arc of Blade of Shuriken in its continuity, obviously throwing out the never-to-be-finished Shuriken Team-Up series whose first issue ends with Shuriken being thrown out a window by a demon after some other guy staked two succubi with the wooden legs of a chair he’d smashed. [The Team-Up book was actually not bad, and I can see why people were miffed it was canned].
After Cold Steel, Eternity offers Shuriken Vol 2, the 4th or 5th series, depending on how you count them.
Honestly, this is the first Shuriken book I would call legitimately good. This title goes back to a manga style [Eternity’s internal solicit brags “It’s manga!”], though not Byers’s Amerimanga style. Both the art [Wes Abbott] and the story [S.A. Bennett] are reminiscent of the pre-GitS Masamune Shirow whose work was gaining traction in the west through publication of books like Dominion and Black Magic via Eclipse just a year or two before.
Bennett seems to have a bit better grasp on the character [at least in the first issue] than he did at the start of Cold Steel, but she still doesn’t feel like the same “go to the carnival and win a Cerebus the Ardvark doll” Kyoko. Still, I’m curious to see where he goes with her in the remaining issues of the last Eternity run.
Despite her appeal, both Shuriken and Byers’s stars rose but briefly–in his hands, Shuriken was a charming, if mediocre, IP; out of his hands, she was just another martial arts character in a sea of martial arts characters at a time when the trope was falling out of vogue and better “authentic” manga titles were becoming available to comic readers. The sad saga of Shuriken ultimately ends with Marvel buying Malibu and killing the IP in favor of introducing their own character Shuriken in their Malibu UltraForce series.
Anyway, if this post made you curious to check Shuriken out at any point, you can find most of it available at MyComicShop.com.
Update: Issue #9 DOES exist! https://www.zipcomic.com/shuriken-issue-9