Dark Horse Comics recently released an English-language edition of Lady Snowblood Vol. 1, a Japanese manga originally published in the 1970s with quite the pedigree. To begin with, it was written by Kazo Koike, the creator of Lone Wolf and Cub, a classic (and long-running) manga about a samurai-turned-assassin who traveled the Japanese countryside with his small son. Lone Wolf and Cub served as the inspiration for the graphic novel Road to Perdition, which in turn became the film of the same name starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman. Meanwhile, Lady Snowblood, which in comic form has received less attention in the U.S., was turned into a Japanese film that caught the attention of American director Quentin Tarantino and inspired many aspects of his two-part revenge flick Kill Bill.
What is Lady Snowblood about? Vengenge. Pure and simple, this is a revenge story, with echoes of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West as well as any number of other similar films (as the magna appeared in the early 1970s, it is no doubt possible that there was quite a bit of cross-cultural ferment on the topic of bloody revenge). The title character is Yuki, named by her mother as a child of hell. Yuki's father was killed by a group of men who conspired to use him to start an uprising; they then brutalized her mother. Her mother subsequently killed one of her attackers and ended up in jail, where Yuki is born. Yuki's mother was serving a life sentence; there was no way she could escape and continue her revenge. Consequently, she concocted a plan which included seducing the guards in order to produce a child who could pass beyond the prison walls.
Dying in childbirth, Yuki's mother impresses upon a friend the importance of imparting to her infant daughter the necessity of her revenge - the grudge that she could no longer carry, but which she passed to her daughter. The friend agrees to do so, and Yuki ("snow," so named for her snow-white skin) is trained to become the instrument of her mother's vengenace.
Twenty years later, Yuki is a skilled assassin. For the price of 1,000 yen she will perform murderous miracles, often proceeding through trickery, deceit, and the assumption that as a woman she poses as little threat to the criminals she is often dispatching. In this first volume of adventures, she is hired to perform various tasks, such as killing the owner of a competing brothel who never appears in public, uncovering a sex slave ring masquerading as a rickshaw business, and framing high-ranking government officials for murder.