P:R Approved: Alex Mitchell’s Sengoku Avengers!

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.

19 comments on “P:R Approved: Alex Mitchell’s Sengoku Avengers!
  1. Nicely done! This is beautiful work.

    Do I have quibbles, yes, but they’re super minor.

    Iron Man is spot on. Loki, Thor and especially Hulk are truly inspiried!

    SHIELD ninjas? Someone call Whedon quickly and incorporate this school of ninjitsu into the show. Good stuff!

    I know you said Cap was hard, and I can see how you got to this design. It’s the era, not your work, that keeps it from being pitch perfect. Cap as everyman wouldn’t be a Samurai, or even a high ranking general, but how else do you portray a great war hero of the day. My only other thought would have been to lose the swordsmanship all together and make him a martial monk of some sort. But even that’s a tough row to hoe.

    Good work, keep it going!

  2. These are so great that I won’t even mention my hatred of the Avengers lineup from the movie (oops). Thor is the only one that feels even a little bit weak, and that’s only because it seems overly obvious. The rest are just about perfect. The costumes are visually interesting, but the drawings also convey a remarkable amount of personality. I’d really like to read a story involving these characters.

  3. There’s absolutely no way that I can give a valid critique of the costuming elements, since they rely so heavily on a culture with which I am unfamiliar. I hope others here keep that in mind, too.

    The most I can say is that the designs overall look pretty darn cool, and I like the consideration that went into developing each.

  4. THese are awesome!!! DC did something very similar with an Elseword called, Jusitice League: Shogun of Steel. This would be a great storyline to read.

  5. How much do I love the ofuda trying to keep the monster in? THIS MUCH.

    So many inspired decisions here. The deer horns on Loki, the Sengoku-era firearms for Iron Man, the wet-weather touches for Thor. Detail-wise, the only quibble I have is that Tetsujin’s mempo is a little *too* recognizable for my taste; I don’t think it quite harmonizes with the rest of the outfit. I’d like to see it call a bit more to the aesthetics of Japanese armor, less to the standard look of Iron Man.

    I agree that Cap is hard. The umbrella is a clever way to solve the shield problem, but the stripes on his chestplate, like the mempo, look a bit too much as if they came from canon, rather than this setting. And the overall look doesn’t quite signal “ordinary guy who stepped up to the plate,” at least not to me (though him not being in full armor helps). I don’t think monk is the way to solve that, though — too mystical. Possibly you could give him more of a peasant look by swapping the umbrella out for a straw hat? And maybe just get rid of the chestplate — make it a red-and-white kimono. I’m also wondering whether a spear might work better for his weapon than a katana. On the one hand, the sword fits better with the “General” idea (which I think is a good name for him); on the other, it doesn’t signal “common man” to me.

    All of that is me chewing on how to get the concept to mash better into the era, though, which it doesn’t do easily. On the whole, I think these are inspired and awesome. :-)

  6. There aren’t enough words to convey my level of joy at seeing this– I spent most of last October tromping across Kyoto, Yakushima, Hiroshima and Tokyo– and I went to a LOT of historical sites and OMG SO MANY WONDERFUL MUSEUMS. So this is just so incredibly shiny….. Loki and Thor in particular are perfect; I spent time in Takachiho, where Amateratsu hid in her cave, and we got to watch the local dancers perform some of the creation stories, and Amaterasu’s brother was *just* like Thor. **glee** Please tell me you’re going to go further with this!

  7. These are really really great.

    Just two comments:

    · The Thor analog feels a bit small; he should be larger and more imposing I think.

    · Captain America could have still been an American. Instead of a guy lost in time, This Captain America is lost in a foreign land, unable to get home. Could be a great opportunity to do east-meets-west designs.

  8. Thanks so much for all the comments and for the feature! I agree with pretty much all the comments I’ve read so far– Captain America was a tough one. I went through several ideas, and this is the basic look that I thought “worked” best. I may have erred on the ‘military guy’ side of things. I totally see what everyone is saying though. Perhaps I’ll do a refined version someday.

    Jim Gitman: I liked the movie a lot, but I also like my Avengers with some Giant-Man and Wasp, personally. And maybe She-Hulk.
    ysabet: I am quite jealous of you. I’ve never even been to Kyushu, and I’ve also never seen Kyoto. I hear that it’s beautiful in the fall.

    I’m honored to have my work on this site with all these other amazing artists!

  9. I like how the artist chose to stay truer to Japanese folklore and history than to the characters’ appearances. They’re all incredibly well thought out and they all look fantastic.

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  13. This would be an interesting fanfiction angle for the Avengers. Do you write as well as draw? I can’t do either. These pictures are amazing.

  14. Quick fix for cap. He’s a common born man who impressed a high ranking Samurai who took him in as an heir. He was trained in his master’s style, and grew strong. This story isn’t actually that uncommon and still fulfills Caps core personality.

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