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Johnny Hiro #1
posted May 7, 2007
AdHouse Books, comic book, 32 pages, May 2007, $2.95
This is a reasonably cute, traditional comic book offering from AdHouse Books. Johnny Hiro's girlfriend Mayumi is kidnapped from their New York apartment by a Godzilla exact-alike. This causes Hiro to attempt a rescue while heavily shuttling back to reminisce on his own life of massively unsuccessful heroics. Similarly, Godzilla tromps up the street and turns inward to think on how he was defeated by a giant robot last time he hit a big city. The book ends with an extended cameo by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That's about it, really. Chao has one of those amiable comic styles that you used to see more frequently back in the 1980s; it feels like you could spend eight or eight hundred pages in his world and enjoy every page. His figures are drawn with an understated elegance, and his visual pacing within individual scenes move the eye beautifully. While perhaps most noteworthy for Chao's choice to have Mayumi speak in an over the top, limited English that will likely make 60 percent of this comic's well-meaning white audience squirm, the writing in general displays understanding of comics craft.
The big downside to Johnny Hiro
arises from the fact that so little happens. Not only is the reader saddled with a passive protagonist, there's almost no plot progression. Step back, and the entire episode seems to have taken a couple of minutes. This gives the entire comic a weird sense of rhythm: the flashbacks aren't anchored, and therefore tend to overwhelm the present-day narrative through-line. The Michael Bloomberg pay-off feels so hefty and involved and stately compared to scenes Chao burned through earlier in the comic that it's almost like this is a story solely designed to explain Mayor Bloomberg's philosophy of political service. Chao would need to be a divine visual and extremely prolific cartoonist to portray his world through such limited exposure and make us appreciate its details and quirky way of doing things. He's not quite that accomplished, and one doubts that even if if he were that AdHouse is going to publish a monthly. What remains is a pleasant comic distinguished more by its unrealized potential than by any one unique thing it chooses to offer. Like Johnny Hiro, you may by comic's end prefer to simply stare out the window.