Archive for Lone Wolf and Cub

Slightly Late Nerd Testament #1: the Parable of the Ronin and the Whore

Posted in Religion with tags , on February 8, 2009 by bradellison

Some background:

Lone Wolf and Cub is, straight up, one of the greatest achievements in comic book history.  It’s twenty-eight volumes in length and it tells a unified and dynamic story from beginning to end with all the depth and complexity of a Victor Hugo novel, yet almost every chapter (at least in the first two thirds or so) is capable of standing alone as a self-contained episode.  It’s a story about mighty samurai, but it’s also packed with period detail on the lives of peasants, merchants, craftsmen and gangsters.  It’s pulp exploitation to the max, chock full with bloody violence, gratuitous sex and implausible twists and cliffhangers, but it’s also a deeply moving and richly drawn saga about the highest of ideals and themes.  Loyalty, duty, honor, betrayal, love and revenge.  It’s the product of one of the best writer-artist teams in comics history, and pioneered a cinematic visual style reminiscent of Kurosawa’s chambara films and Leone’s spaghetti westerns, a style that hugely influenced Frank Miller back when he was at his best.  Pretty much everything about it is awesome.

It’s the story of Ogami Itto (which, literally rendered into English, might come out something like One-sword Wolfe), the Shogun’s personal executioner.  At least, he was the Shogun’s personal executioner until a rival clan framed him for treason and murdered his wife.  Rather than submit to the death his alleged treason demanded, Ogami did the unthinkable: taking his infant son Daigoro, he renounced the rules that defined his existence and went into exile, wandering the countryside working as an assassin until the time when he’d be able to fulfill his vow of vengeance and destroy his betrayers, the Yagyu clan.  He was accompanied by his son, who rode in a baby cart that was rigged up as an arsenal in disguise, packed with spring-loaded blades, a bullet-proof bottom, and, at one point, an experimental twenty-shot supermusket.  Daigoro, from the time he could walk, not only bore witness to the bloodstained life his father led, but aided him as an active accomplice.  A toddler, it turns out, can be a very effective Trojan horse if he keeps a cool head and follows instructions.

And it came to pass, at a certain point in Ogami Itto’s wanderings, that he came to a hot springs resort, a mountain village accessable only by a long and narrow rope bridge.  As he came to the end of the bridge, he was accosted by some of the bandits who had completely taken over the town, which they were in the process of despoiling.  For his own reasons, Ogami permitted them to take him prisoner.

The bandits led the samurai and his child through the village, which had been transformed into a little slice of hell.  In the process of walking from the bridge to the inn where the bandits have set up shop, they pass one rape and two murders.

Ogami and his son are taken to the bathhouse, where all the other out-of-towners were being held captive.  Among them was a prostitute and pickpocket by the name of O-Sen.  A particularly hot-headed and belligerent bandit, a man who felt the need to see Ogami’s stoic dignity humbled, came in and began demanding that Ogami duel him.  When he found himself ignored, he simply started beating Ogami with his scabbard.  When that failed to elicit any response from the samurai, who continued to sit tranquilly in a meditative posture, the bandit demanded that Ogami and O-Sen put on a show for him.  With Ogami continuing to ignore him like a buzzing gnat, the bandit turned his attention to the prostitute, who proved easier to taunt.  Her response was that she would rather die than do what he asked, and he was about to accomodate her when Ogami, who’d only spoken five sentences in the whole issue so far, all of them more than fifteen pages back, broke his silence, stood up, and removed his kimono.

O-Sen’s first response as disbelief.  “No!  You wouldn’t…Not for me…”

Her second response, eyes downcast, was “If…If you can accept a woman like me…Do what you will.”

There followed much mockery from the watching bandits, the main points of ridicule being the cowardice of a samurai who would degrade himself so thoroughly to save his own life, and the beautific expression on the prostitute’s face, as though she were the Goddess of Mercy rather than a whore being penetrated in front of a jeering audience.

It was some time later, as the other prisoners sat around the lantern contemplating their almost certain deaths in the morning, and scorning Ogami’s cowardice and lack of shame, that O-Sen spoke out.

“Silence!  What do you know about it?  I was ready to bite off my tongue and die then, and he saw it.  That’s why he swallowed his shame and volunteered to sleep with me.

“Do you know how happy that makes me?  Saving the life of a woman like me?  He gave up all his samurai pride and posturing, just for me…

You may see where I’m going with this story now.  If not, take a look at the book of Hosea.

The Prophets, time and time again, and in harsher language than you’re ever likely to hear from a pulpit, drew the analogy between God’s people and a whore.  Ezekiel had some things to say involving Israel’s craving for donkey-sized penises.  People, the Scriptures tell us (and does not your own observation prove it out?) that people tend to turn aside from what they need, what they aught, and what is best, and instead pursue shiny trash, cheap thrills, and various brands of spiritual and mental junk food.  We mess things up.

As the Apostle Paul put it in one of his epistles:

Why everything that’s supposed to bad make me feel so good?
Everything they told me not to is exactly what I would
Man I tried to stop man I tried the best I could

So that’s what we are.  And what God is, evidently, is far, far above man.  Which is what makes the Incarnation such an interesting phenomenon.  The Alpha and Omega, injected into creation as a character in His own story, breaking the fourth wall by becoming wrapped in fragile corrupt meat and made subject to the laws of nature.  Sweating, bleeding, eating, defecating.  Communicating by pumping air through wet fleshy bellows and slapping meat together.  Becoming something made up of countless cells constantly dying around and within Him.  And then He proceeds to humble, nay, humiliate Himself even by meat-puppet standards.  A peasant laborer in an occupied country on the grimy edges of the Empire, a man who conducted Himself with an inordinate lack of dignity or concern for propriety.  His whole career was spent looking for unclean things to embrace.  Then he capped it all off by dying one of the most agonizing and ignominious manners we vicious bloodthirsty little talking monkey-things ever came up with.

All this degredation and disgrace, heaped upon the I AM THAT I AM, and for what?

For us.  Honor and pride set to one side, disgraced before the adversaries who accuse and defy, in order to save a whore.