Earlier this week, the Cartoon Brew Instagram account revealed the first promo art for the upcoming Samurai Jack revival (catch a glimpse of it below). The new season of the show – hitting the air more than a decade after the original run concluded – will only consist of 10 episodes, but they’ll be structured like a five-hour movie, with a much darker tone than the previous seasons. To help get you stoked for the new episodes, debuting later this year on Cartoon Network, Geek.com takes a look back at the original series, starting with the very first episode…Samurai Jack, outside of being one of the best cartoons ever made and one of my personal favorite television shows, is important. During its four-season run starting in 2001, the show struggled to find its audience. This was due in part to scheduling malarkey from Cartoon Network, who were reportedly frustrated that the show didn’t offer up more toy tie-in opportunities (where all the real money gets made). Just as large of a problem, however, was that in 2001, prior to the full ascendency of geek culture and the normalization of animation for adults brought about by anime’s then still-waxing popularity, it wasn’t terribly clear who the show was for.With its hard, blocky, angular animation, Samurai Jack brought to mind other popular Cartoon Network original programming, including Dexter’s Laboratory and Powerpuff Girls. This made sense, of course, because the creator of Samurai Jack, Genndy Tartakovsky, also created Dexter’s Lab and directed multiple episodes of the original Powerpuff Girls series. But unlike those amazing shows, which were, reductively, children’s television that also managed to appeal to an older audience, Samurai Jack aimed at an older, more culturally aware audience. And if, like me, Samurai Jack hit you at the right time and age, you’re probably just as outrageously stoked as I am for the show’s return later this year.One of the many things I loved about Samurai Jack — one of the things that led me, as a Marvel editor, to hire Tartakovsky to do a still sadly unreleased ’70s-era Luke Cage comic project — was the fact that the show is, in the best way possible, a pastiche, a single work of art that borrows and lifts from other works as a type of homage, blending them together into something new that still manages to honor the original work. In all of his work, Tartakovsky wears his influences proudly on his sleeve, but with Samurai Jack, those influences go far beyond simple parody, easter egg, or allusion.Perhaps nowhere in the series’ entire run is that more clearly on display than in the very first episode of the very first season, entitled, appropriately, “The Beginning.” Originally airing as part of a “Premiere Movie,” which contained episodes one through three, “The Beginning” starts from a place of heavy Japanese influence. In fact, what backstory we receive regarding Jack’s arch rival, the demon Aku, comes via a sequence of vertically scrolling images that bring to mind the ukiyo-e art genre. Though the show begins in a Japanese setting — as one might reasonably expect from a series with “Samurai” in the title — it quickly becomes clear that the show will not be content to homage chanbara samurai films alone.In fact, in this very first episode, the title character goes on a wandering journey of training and self-discovery, evoking the David Carradine 1970s series Kung Fu. Instead of being limited to a single nation, though, the young Jack is sent to learn horseback riding in the Middle East, staff fighting in sub-Saharan Africa, literacy in Egypt, wrestling in Greece, the bow in England, sailing in Scandinavia, axe-throwing in Russia, spear-work upon the steppes and, my personal favorite, kung fu in China, utilizing some of the training regimen made famous in the Gordon Liu starring classic, The 36th Chamber of Shaolin.It’s been almost 15 years since this episode of Samurai Jack first appeared and in that time pop culture’s approach to proper representation of various ethnic, racial and national groups has grown and changed in rather profound ways. As such, some people might look back at this first episode of Samurai Jack, with its simplistic, caricature-driven approach to different world cultures — especially the extraordinarily black, stereotypically portrayed African staff-fighter — as problematic. While I would never presume to tell someone that they are wrong to feel offended, I do think it’s important to point out the idiom that Samurai Jack and much of Tartakovsky’s work tends to fall within.Samurai Jack is a cartoon. Not just in the simple sense, meaning that it’s comprised of animation, but in a deeper, older sense of the word. Cartooning has as an important part of its DNA a separate but related art: Caricature. This can still be seen in many comics and cartoons, but nowhere is it more clear than in editorial cartooning, a subgenre of comics that has managed to stay relevant even amidst print publishing’s ongoing collapse, a fact that likely speaks to the primal power of the technique. Samurai Jack taps into this same approach, using cultural stereotypes as a type of visual shorthand to convey how we are meant to feel about Jack, his journey and his numerous teachers.In truth, it’s this approach that not only makes this first episode work so well, but enables it to even work at all. There are a whopping nine cultural vignettes within this first 23-minute episode, as well as other scenes that go a long way to establishing the show’s characters and central conflicts. That’s not a lot of time to set a scene, and the task is made even more difficult by another fascinating choice that the show’s creators made: To have all of these vignettes be silent.With so little time, with no dialogue, establishing Jack’s character, the benevolence of his teachers and his growing skills — it all sounds like an insurmountable task. But because Tartakovsky and company decided to lean upon preconceived notions of classical wrestling, Robin Hood, viking longships and, yes, kung fu, they were able to give Jack a shockingly rich backstory in a shockingly expedient manner.Again, I’m not interested in explaining why anyone should or shouldn’t be offended by a caricature — that’s a personal choice — but I would like to comment upon not just the choice to use stereotypical cultural and racial elements, but the manner in which they were utilized. Like all of the influences contained in Samurai Jack, like all of the pieces that go together to make a true pastiche, the globetrotting depictions in this first episode are presented with not just kindness, but reverence. They exist to connect Samurai Jack to not just a single martial lineage, but to all martial lineages, in effect, creating a hero that possesses a bond to a myriad of world traditions despite his initial rooting in a very specific one. Taken from that angle, the building of this distinctly Asian hero (itself a political choice for an American cartoon) as a citizen and champion of the entire world, is a rather progressive choice.All of these quick, silent, individual vignettes are also fascinating for another reason: They are an absolutely bizarre way to start an animated series, much less one in 2001 that was largely aimed (wisely or not) at children. Typically, first episodes of television series have a laundry list of things to establish and present: Protagonist, antagonist, central conflict, complications, secondary characters, setting, etc. Instead of doing all of that, however, this first episode takes an extremely leisurely approach, one that almost feels lackadaisical.A large reason behind this is likely the fact that, as aforementioned, this episode was originally just the first third of a larger “Premiere Movie.” But even the simple choice to have a “Premiere Movie” at all is a strange one, as it represents a much larger time commitment from audiences who likely knew next to nothing at all about the series. If you came into the show expecting Dexter’s Laboratory with a samurai, or even a chanbara-style sword fighting epic, this first episode would likely leave you scratching your head. Again, though, if you’re anything like me, you scratched while smiling.The show begins in a truly bizarre place, opening with the solar eclipse-driven rebirth of the series’ central antagonist, Aku. But with no dialogue, and before we’ve even been told who Aku is or what he looks like, the scene exists with no context except that which the audience makes up on its own, or has revealed to them later. Samurai Jack expects that its audience doesn’t just sit and stare at it vacantly for 23 minutes, but that they actually pay attention and think about what’s being presented to them.The willingness to begin in such an odd, disconcerting place, to fill the middle of the first episode with a series of silent vignettes, to never even bother naming the title character — these are bizarre, seemingly counterintuitive choices for a new series. They all not only work, though, but contribute to the depth and complexity of the show due to one simple thing: The creators’ confidence.Together, Tartakovsky, frequent collaborator Paul Rudish, and the rest of the show’s creative team exhibited a supreme amount of confidence, one that enabled them to take a strange approach to an animated show and sell it to audiences through their straight-faced commitment and sincere love of all the series’ myriad influences. This willingness to experiment, to utilize influences not commonly seen in Western animation, is a trend that we will most definitely return to as we continue our re-watch of Samurai Jack.Next week, we pick up where we left off, with part II of the Samurai Jack “Premiere Movie,” “The Samurai Called Jack.” We’ll be discussing the heavy debt that Samurai Jack owes to specific works, including Frank Miller’s Ronin, as well as a serious talk about when and how pastiche crosses the line into infringement. Keep up with our re-watch by checking out Samurai Jack on Hulu!Aubrey Sitterson is a Los Angeles-based writer whose most recent work is the Street Fighter x G.I. Joe series from IDW, available digitally on Comixology. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website for more information.