Note: Superheroes may be the the modern cultural equivalent of mythological gods for us, but who says they have to be stuck in our time? Artist Alex Mitchell takes on Marvel’s Avengers and takes them back to pre-Edo period Japan in this “Senguko Avengers” series. Michell’s work shows a remarkable understanding for both Japanese culture of that era and Marvel’s heroes, creating an intensive and holistic re-imagining of these characters that is positively striking. – Chris A.
I was wanting to do a new redesigned/ translated set of comics characters for a while, and the new Avengers movie presented a great team to build from. It has the kind of big iconic characters that work best for these sort of re-imaginings. Instead of the theatrical ‘chambara’ setting I used for my Justice League, I decided that the historically based, yet still legendary figures of the Sengoku era of Japanese history would be the inspiration.
Iron Man (‘Tetsu-jin’, literally ‘Iron-man’) was the first character I worked on, and the elaborate samurai armor was an obvious choice. The distinctive mask keeps him recognizable. I used a fancy way of writing ‘tetsu’, meaning ‘iron’, as part of the patterned fabric. The interest with foreign technologies such as firearms was borrowed from the life of Sengoku celebrity Oda Nobunaga. The firearms themselves are fictionalized, but based on real-world examples.
Next up was Thor, who begged to be remade as a native Japanese deity. I ended up using ‘Raijin’ as the basis, known through popular culture as ‘Raiden’. The thunder and lightning theme was great, and I gave him a rain hat and proper wet weather ‘geta’ sandals to stay with that theme. The weapon was a fusion of Raijin’s hammerlike drumsticks and the real-life ‘meteor hammer’, which is a Chinese weapon with a similar Japanese equivalent.
I knew that the Hulk would be fun, and that he would be ‘oni’-themed. I decided he would be a sorcerer who used paper ‘ofuda’ to seal in the monster (‘kaibutsu’) inside himself. The paper talismans have heavily modified versions of the character meaning ‘to seal away’ written on them, and his torn clothing have a seal script version of ‘oni’ that I’ve always liked. I considered using the traditional oni studded metal club, but I went the way I did to emphasize the character’s history of destruction. He uses the Buddhist rosary to control his emotions.
My Loki was easily found after choosing my Thor. Kagu-tsuchi is a fire god like Loki, and is similarly both Raijin’s brother and also an enemy of the gods. I gave him deer horns to replace his helmet and to bring to mind the asian dragon he is often depicted as. The mirror is based on one of the Imperial Regalia, and is my version of the Tesseract. In this story, the Lords of Yomi (the underworld) have given Kagu-tsuchi his father’s spear (here representing the movie’s scepter) and sent him against the mortal world.
Captain America was a challenge, and my friends helped a lot. They suggested the umbrella as a round element to replace the shield (hand-held shields weren’t used at the time), and they suggested the ‘sickly child who becomes a swordmaster’ storyline, which is a standard for several great martial artists of the era. I had to abandon the nationalistic angle of the Captain, because Japan didn’t exist as a country until it was united during this era. In keeping with that, this character is called ‘Taishou’, or ‘General’. This is a rank that would be in line with both the legendary figures of the age and also similar to the position that the Captain had in the modern US army.
The S.H.I.E.L.D. characters were a bit too obvious to me from the get-go. The ninja angle was a must, and I ended up using the famous ‘Iga-ryuu’ and ‘Koga-ryuu’ as my historical inspiration. The ‘Tate-ryuu’ (literally Shield School) is a blend of the two, with the Iga’s job of protecting the Shogun, and the Koga’s more relaxed (?) hierarchy. I gave my Fury two animal companions (messenger pigeons were a common method of secret communication) to represent the movie’s Coulson and Hill.