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posted March 24, 2008


Creator: Osamu Tezuka
Publishing Information: Vertical, hardcover, 584 pages, October 2007, $24.95
Ordering Numbers: 1932234837 (ISBN10), 9781932234831 (ISBN13)

If Osamu Tezuka's mid-'70s potboiler were a DVD release instead of the latest stand-alone translated graphic novel from Vertical, it would be the kind of movie that older film aficionados showed groups of younger ones in their circle, and it would intermittently be the subject of limited runs at however many copies of the work were in the system at Netflix. I don't know that comics has an equivalent to that kind of enthusiastic, passing-on ritual, as much as an informal network of casual suggestions and a whole of a lot of reviews. No matter how it comes to them, MW is a fitting subject for study. Odd, disjointed, messy and sometimes thrillingly lurid, it's a book that feels like a grasp at a specific set of comics effects that only hits half the time but still manages to avoid embarrassment across the board through the natural skills of its creator. It's like Vincent Minelli's Taxi Driver, or Frank Capra's Deer Hunter; I had a hard time taking my eyes off of it, although I can't say I enjoyed every minute of the reading experience.

imageMW is the story of Michio Yuki, an attractive sociopath, and Iwao Garai, the Catholic priest who loves the sinner (literally; they're lovers) but hates the sin. They are bound by an experience where youth gang member Garai was ordered to guard the even younger Yuki as a potential ransom prize. Their first night intimacy kept them out of range of a poisonous gas that kills everyone on the island which they occupy. The dead lying about in the streets is a potent image; it's obviously meant to recall war's finality and its invasion of domestic life, but it also lays the blame not at some outside enemy but the compromises nations make in order to better prepare themselves for combat. In terms of the book, it's also important in that it's stated several times as the cause of Michio's inhuman nature. Whether to believe that or not is one of the better, unresolved issues in a work that doesn't have a lot of them. The story's backbone runs on two tracks, the crazy person's increasingly dramatic plan to kill a lot of people on his own way to the grave, and the priest's plan to oppose these excesses of behavior, mostly through self-transformation.

MW proves to be an effective thriller, both in terms of its incremental build to its slightly over the top finale and the various set pieces that engage us along the way. Tuzuka was a scarily potent artist by this point, and it's possible to just flip through it and enjoy the imagery. The way he shifts from different presentational styles -- not the clipped economy of the scene below -- offers much that can be admired. It's also one of his best designed books of those I've read. Again, if it were a movie, it would be one cast for looks. Where Tezuka loses me and why this work doesn't quite scale the heights of Ode to Kirihito is that it becomes mired in its central relationship while other plot threads that look like they might add strength and diversity to the core conflict fall to the wayside. Tezuka's depiction of the chosen milieu is weak and buttressed by some selective stereotypes. One scene in a sex club for gay men was so goofy and backwards I expected the Frank Sinatra character from that one movie set in Miami to run into the room and start punching people in the throat; nearly as silly was a sapphic reveal that felt about as authentic as praise from a game show host. Tezuka's take on the physical aspects of the central relationship might be politically dubious but it works within the story in that it provides that partnership with varying degrees of doubt and complexity. For the most part, however, a lot of what happens feels like it's covering expected bases as much as it's the fruits of Tezuka's focused interest in works of this tone and subject matter. When the final twist hits it comes with a certain sense of relief.