Sometimes People Just Don’t Understand Cults

January 8, 2008 at 3:27 pm (Comic Books)

It’s probably because they belong to one.

Golgo 13: Supergun (vol. 1 of 13)

This is a tiny (as those manga reproductions go) reproduction of a venerably long-running manga series in Japan. It’s published by VIZ and has almost reached the end of its initial thirteen volume volley into American comic shops and bookshelves. Its creator and the person to whom every story is credited, Takao Saito, did not individually produce every story. He had a studio for that. For most of this series’ publication (still continuing today) he just supervised it.

There’s an odd joy to a work as corporately driven as this one. It’s not that it’s driven by commercial factors, not that its production is motivated only by dollar signs, but that the entire project is produced by a huge, laboring mass of people. Stories foment when passing through people, one need only know of oral tradition to know that. These stories have fomented through the hands of many artists and scripters, so much as to render individual contributions indecipherably familial, making the entire question of individual product moot. This is Takao Saito’s work, despite its corporation of artists.

David Bowie does a similar thing. An intense authorial vision is afflicted with rigor mortis, and any contributing artists make their guitars, bass, drums, pianos, heck, vocal chords, sing in his choir. Although he has not the means to produce an album by himself, like, say, Kevin Barnes (interestingly, the strongest argument for glam rock’s viability in the indie marketplace when most artists fret over their sound), he has the vision necessary. Like a multi instrumentalist would take up an instrument just for its purposes in a piece or a writer another style in order to reify a vision, one need only hire the right people in order to make a dream a reality. Golgo 13, along with The Spiders from Mars, is the antidote to flaccidity.

Golgo 13 has less immediately artistically relevant aims than Bowie often does, although I don’t really know what that clause means (What defines something as artistic shifts as often as public opinion on Pollack). The two stories in this volume, The Gun at Am Shara and Hit and Run, focus on bad people getting punished for their bad actions by Duke Togo, Golgo 13’s actual name. In the first, the president seeks his skills (what an audacious introduction- A Japanese hitman is needed for American homeland security), and the comic spends a lot of time describing a gun built into a dam. The twisting race for technology intrigues as much as the race to destroy it. The second one almost doesn’t feature Gogol 13 at all, but the abuse of his reputation. An ex-cop’s wife is run over, and when taking revenge, he persuades the accidental murderer that Golgo 13 took a contract for his head. His entire life crumbles, and the main character is only present in spoken dialogue, a photo, and a feverish dream. Although the actual character is rarely used, these two stories spend their entire time introducing us to his character. He’s a ruthless character, and stories unavailable are referenced (That hit in the hotel room in Utah, that was crazy, huh? Howabout that hit he did while behind a coke sign? Crazy!). His swagger is already assured by the next time we see him in a VIZ publication.

Interestingly, its English language publication mirrors its production method. A wealth of stories are available (Wikipedia offers that one hundred and forty two volumes have been published), and we are only given thirteen. Besides that, there isn’t any information contained here about its content’s original publication date, the only temporal demarcation being the first story’s setting in 1995. Its contents were plucked from a gigantic back catalogue, as faceless and corporate an identity as its producers.

The back of the book gives similarly useless information for those wishing an encyclopedia. Did you know that he once sat in a sniping nest full of coral snakes for 72 hours? Or that he never speaks idly, and has, as a film director has said, “the voice of a movie star?” There’s more, too, including his amazing penis. Grant Morrison’s Batman may have singlehandedly neutralized seven unstoppable Martians, but he’s got nothing on Duke Togo.

I can’t stop myself from comparing Golgo to James Bond, a similarly temporally removed character (both are so badass, time doesn’t affect them!), but I can’t bring myself to do it. The idea of James Bond can be compared to Golgo, but Bond has been flubbed by incompetent actors and directors, and has been subject to the capricious metamorphoses of myths. Golgo is still conceptually intact and comes out with guns blazing in every story. In Golgo’s world, there are no awful missions like the late Pierce Brosnan movies: Every story stars Sean Connery.

Note: I forgot to decide on a director? How embarrassing!

And it’s a tiny book, too, despite its umbrella’s umbrage. Unlike Tezuka’s Phoenix, which gets the larger format publication it richly deserves, this is a project easily lost among the sea of manga on bookshelves. It’s right between Hot Gimmick, one of those longwinded, meandering series chronicling a girl’s romantic dalliances, and Galaxy Angel, a science fiction manga occasionally dipping into romantic comedy. It does not intimidate its neighbors with high production values or contemporary importance.

You may have noticed I have not discussed its stories’ particulars or their general quality. The thing is, all of its stories have a general quality, and I am further along in the series than its first volume, but was struck by the project’s (as much as it can be called a project instead of artistic real estate) aims instead of its narratives, but they are exciting, tense things in the first volume. Golgo bounds past his obstacles with acuity and grace in the volume, surrounding the main character’s appearance in each story (he only shows up for a couple panels in the second story) with suspense. Focusing on the prey makes the success of the predator terrific, and these stories ably coast between tension and excitement like any good spy thriller should.

Perhaps I’m writing this out of my social environment instead of the blogosphere’s critical one. All the English Majors and highbrow elitists would turn their eyebrows up at anything flamboyantly lowbrow besides Lichenstein, denying the uniqueness of corporately (but not commercially, although the book has certainly achieved that in Japan) produced work. It’s more than a breath of fresh air, it’s an inspiring gulp from the fountain of youth that a large group can maintain the integrity of an artistic endeavor despite the many hands tampering it.

If Spiegelman ever starts to bore you, maybe you should check out another unique artistic vision ably plucked from its creator’s mind.


I should mention that Jog has a plethora of writings on the topic, and has been the series’ biggest promoter even before it was published in English, and all of his writings on the subject are worth reading. Those are only his writings when they were tagged. There are plenty more.

Next: Another corporately produced work, but with completely different goals. If I was continuing my 2007 retrospective started with my review of Devil Dinosaur and ending with Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer, it would be restarted with this one, with the caveat that it’s only one of the best concepts of 2007 with poor execution.


1 Comment

  1. Journalista - the news weblog of The Comics Journal » Blog Archive » Jan. 21, 2008: Do the floppy flop said,

    […] XyphaP on the first volume of Takao Saito’s Golgo 13. (Link via Joe […]

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