Do you ever re-read your comics and marvel (no pun intended) at things you’ve forgotten they contain? I do it all the time. Recently, I’ve been revisiting Kazuo Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami’s Crying Freeman (1986-1998) after, man, I don’t even know how long. The epic tale of an artist turned mind-controlled assassin who weeps after every murder he’s forced to commit holds up exceptionally well in all its cheesy, ridiculous soap opera/exploitation movie glory. The highlight of the nearly 2000 page story may actually not be Koike’s typically deft (although admittedly absurd) plotting or Ikegami’s sleek artwork with its astonishingly buff male and nubile female lead characters, but may actually be this particular moment in volume two, where a mortally wounded mob wife, bleeding to death, watches on lustfully and in enraptured awe as Crying Freeman, for all intents and purposes her *murderer*, signals a submarine by waving two pairs of underpants around in the air:
Manga! Long may you rule!
This onslaught of Ryoichi Ikegami art also reminds me that I need to revisit Sanctuary (1990-1995), also by Ikegami and writer Buronson (AKA Sho Fumimura – he also wrote Fist of the Northstar). If you’ve never tackled those particular nine volumes of manga, Sanctuary concerns two Cambodian boys who escape the genocide of Pol Pot by fleeing to Japan. One of the boys takes on the mission of controlling the yakuza, the other the Japanese parliament. It’s brilliant, one of the single greatest crime epics ever in comics for my money, but alarming with its “Japan must arm itself again” message especially given the terrifying regime its two leads miraculously escaped from. Given the current global political climate and the shocking exit of Britain from the EU, Sanctuary’s neo-fascist bite might just clamp down even harder and scarier right now. Hunt it down.
COMIC OF THE WEEK : THE MARQUIS OF ANAON: THE PROVIDENCE
By Fabien Vehlmann & Matthieu Bonhomme
Published By Cinebook
Adventurer, sceptic, mystery-solver, occasional coward and possible paranormal magnet, Jean-Baptiste Poulain, AKA The Marquis of Anaon, returns with his third adventure and this time hits the high seas in “The Providence,” where superstition, disease and possible ghost ships await him.
If you’ve not encountered the good Marquis before, feel free to catch up on my prior reviews of the series here, comics that I considered some of the finest to appear in English last year. It’s with this latest tale translated from the French by the fine people at Cinebook that the regular reader will truly begin to understand the scope of the series, each with vastly different settings, locales and type of supernatural dread explored and each pushing our protagonist into further extremes of life and death. As usual, however, if you’re coming in cold each volume is essentially self-contained, requiring no real knowledge of previous volumes to enjoy thoroughly.
“The Providence” opens with Poulain at a Parisian party attended by the powdered-wig wearing well to do who mock our hero behind his back for his commoner background, his apparent failure to complete medical school and for being some sort of supernatural charlatan. Poulain is, of course, something of an eccentric scholar, learning not from textbook or educational institution, but from direct experience with the “provincial bonesetters” that he encounters on his rural myth-busting adventures. After making his medical abilities perfectly clear to his snooty doubter, Poulain is approached by the beautiful Countess of Almedia, who whisks our hero off for an intended two-month stay in her native Andalusia.
Aboard a large vessel, Poulain and the Countess head towards Spain, but during a frightful storm, they encounter another ship – The Providence – filled with corpses with a violently snapped spines and a possible spectre haunting its bow. Poulain’s fellow crewmates soon become ill and one vanishes after the decision to tow The Providence to port and many begin to wonder whether or not they have encountered legendary ghost ship The Flying Dutchman. Poulain, ever pragmatic, digs through some journals and discovers that The Providence’s unscrupulous Captain traded much more than just timber and ivory and as the disease and paranoia increase, Poulain’s medical knowledge and supernatural “expertise” soon prove vital in solving this rapidly-escalating medical mystery.
Vehlmann slips in some nice character development as Poulain, who we last saw accepting his role as the Marquis of Anaon (meaning “Lost Souls”) and being quite a staunch debunker, wonders whether or not the grisly mystery and brushes with the possibly other-worldly he’s constantly experiencing are somehow his responsibility. His trip to Spain, intended to provide relief from the constant superstition and death has resulted in the opposite, propelling him “directly into this macabre discovery.” For her part, the wonderfully grounded Countess labels such thinking on Poulain’s part as “pretentious,” exactly the kind of tough-love advice that Poulain, given to bouts of brooding melancholy and navel-gazing, needs.
Bonhomme’s art is just as gorgeous as ever with his waves swelling violently, his ships sea-tossed, his Poulain serious and introspective and his Countess irresistible. As the tension ratchets up, Bonhomme provides a claustrophobic quarantine holding area below deck every bit that’s as atmospheric as his sweeping, cinematic and moody sea, lit as dramatically as a horror movie basement. He’s an astounding talent.
Science and superstition collide and “The Providence” climaxes with Poulain having to make gravest of possible choices and I look forward to seeing how the weight of this decision influences the tone of the title moving forward and just how heavily it hangs over the conscience and the imagination of our clever but doubt-riddled protagonist. His bravery may have increased but he’s still refreshingly running from physical conflict. One of the more unique traits Poulain has is his inability to fight or inflict harm, even when his life is threatened, with any confidence, ability or bravado. Poulain’s choice of “flight” over “fight” is not only a refreshing way for an “action hero” to behave, it’s also constantly intriguing from a dramatic standpoint – there is virtually no combat he can win without luck. Poulain reacts more than he acts, which tradition will tell you is no way for a protagonist to behave, but it enables Poulain to maintain the level of bewildered everyman, swept up constantly in events he has no control over or is even prepared for.
Complete with several pages from a mock 18th century tabloid that builds Poulain’s own myth up to the level of overblown urban myth, The Marquis of Anaon: The Providence is another ripping read from the creators, setting the table beautifully for the upcoming fourth volume, “The Beast,” in which Poulain is on the hunt for a suspected werewolf, a scenario sure to see him faced with mortal peril once more and will likely see him having to act, rather than react, more urgently than ever before.
WEBCOMIC OF THE WEEK : AGENT 73
By Sarah Horrocks & Katie Skelly
Soak up the Pop Art palette of Operation Margerine’s Katie Skelly in this first chapter of the hopefully ongoing Agent 73. Scripted by creator/critic Sarah Horrocks, whose Guido Crepax-infused giallo comic The Leopard I’ll be looking at in just a few weeks time, Agent 73 vibes Danger Diabolik by way of Guy Peellaert’s Adventures of Jodelle, a little Steranko S.H.I.E.L.D and even a dash of the aforementioned Crepax.
The creators toss readers into the very vibrant deep end of their story in this opening chapter, with the evil, eye-patch wearing mastermind, Dr Paracletus basking in her ability to somehow remain undetected by authorities finally tracked down by her old foe, the beret-wearing Agent 73. The dialogue is a riot, the costumes are simply tremendous and those colours, man, those colours. Check it out.
COMICS VIDEO OF THE WEEK : MAKING OF JOJO
Process dorks rejoice! Compressed into just over an hour of time-lapsed footage is this remarkable video of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure creator Hirohiko Araki creating this particular piece of artwork. With the aid of some classic art books and fashion magazines for inspiration, Araki goes from roughs to final full colour art on this portrait of a multitude of his characters and I could watch probably five hours of this without getting bored. Click on over and you too may well feel slightly mesmerised by the clip as well as realising, as I did, that it’s time to read some more Jojo.
See you next week. Love your comics.
Cameron Ashley spends a lot of time writing comics and other things you'll likely never read. He's the chief editor and co-publisher of Crime Factory (www.thecrimefactory.com). You can reach him @cjamesashley on Twitter.