This past weekend I had the great fortune to pick up the Spring 2017 issue of Shogakukan's quarterly Golgo 13 magazine - a nearly 300-page compendium of complete storylines featuring Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, the Perfect Machine of Snipe, a hyper-competent assassin created by gekiga founding father Takao Saitō way back in 1968. Next year it'll be half a century of people getting shot directly between the eyes from a faraway perch, but don't fool yourself into thinking the franchise is irrelevant; later this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan will be hosting an online manual in which G13 will dispense valuable (and presumably non-murderous) safety tips for business travelers abroad. Canny move for a comic aimed squarely at aging men, but as I was soon to find out, the feature is not without a lingering energy.
If you're as familiar with Golgo 13 as I am, the above sequence will seem almost pornographic. Why is Duke suffering like this in a random hotel room? It's like seeing the Shadow slam his hand in a car door; Saitō and his large crew of assistants at Saitō-Pro -- which put out another 40-or-so pages of this stuff every two weeks, without fail -- are well aware of the iconographic power of seeing their unbeatable champion marksman writhing from physical illness, his drippy skin a putrid salmon in the opening color sequence. Per a 2015 NHK television documentary (unofficial subtitles), the now-octogenarian Saitō still draws images of Golgo 13 himself in the comic, though I wonder if he pushed himself here to present the character in so agonized a state, or if Duke's infirmity rendered him a conceptually lesser being, passed off to supplemental hands.
The story is titled "Messenger from the Canopy" - it's dated to January of 2011, clocking in at Episode 508 per the franchise's terrifying storyline wiki. Immediately after the dramatic open, we're thrust into a flashback detailing G13's typically amoral attitude; he's been contracted by a Big Pharma fat cat to eliminate a pesky biologist whose research in the Costa Rica rainforest is threatening profits. Ever the professional, Duke makes it look like an accident.
But alas, Duke's identity is discovered by the biologist's subordinates, who plan a most awful retaliation - smearing a special toxin on the doorknob of his hotel, to infect him through contact with the skin.
I can't say I've had the chance to look at every one of the preceding 507 adventures in paid murder, but my sense is that it's somewhat unusual to depict Golgo 13 physically suffering from the fallout of his deeds. Indeed, the client -- the aforementioned Big Pharma fat cat -- is soon depicted succumbing to his own sudden bout of mystery flu.
Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that we're seeing a newly 'moral' Golgo 13. From what I have read -- including the thousands of pages translated to English -- the series endeavors to maintain a very even tone, never aggressively cruel, but unwilling to allow too much in the way of empathetic concern to trouble its holy mission: presenting Duke Togo as the most marvelous man who ever lived. In this way, it makes perfect sense to kill the fat cat: he's a gratuitously greedy, mean villain, and it would be sad if he got away. And, moreover, the sight of his mashed potato physiology succumbing to death's embrace in 2.8 seconds contrasts nicely with the sweat-drenched survival of the impossibly manly title character.
Still, he's gonna need a little help.
LOOK AT THAT FIRST PANEL. It takes a comic more-or-less explicitly aimed at middle-aged men to really nail the business supremely normcore business casual shit going on in here, and I don't think any American comic can compare. Also of note is the local specialist brought in to aid Duke's condition; Golgo 13 storylines tend to spend a great deal of time explicating the problematic international situations into which the title character fires bullets, but the studiousness generally stands apart from the 'thrill' portion of the comic: the exotica, on which G13's international travels depend for their escapist kick. Thus:
Hot enough for ya? It was hot enough for Golgo 13 magazine that one of the panels was reproduced in color on the back cover, highlighting the cadaverous tone of Duke's skin, and perhaps the mystic foreignness of the darker-hued men surrounding him.
Meanwhile, word has spread about G13's condition, and vengeful motherfuckers from a totally different assassination are en route to finally settle the score. One can scarcely imagine the power vacuum that would be left in place of the departed Duke Togo, given that he's been involved in a wide variety of world events since 1968, while somehow remaining 30-ish years of age, a la Batman. Did you know Golgo 13 clinched the 2000 election for Bush? The incredible facts are in vol. 13 of VIZ's English books. Two years ago, there was a suggestion that Saitō would soon wrap the series up, but nothing seems to have come of it; perhaps he too (or the suits at Shogakukan) understood the implications of a financial vacuum as well.
Anyway, the revenge squad sets upon Duke's sickbed, but even on the verge of death he remains the most outstanding shootist who ever bent a finger:
Ha ha, he even did a Buffalo Bill trick shot knocking the pistol out of that guy's hand!
As expected, everything wraps itself up by virtue of Golgo 13 being inarguably better than everyone else. The natural therapy specialist gets paid, the various aggressors and betrayers are all killed, and -- duly restored to health -- Duke sets off to take care of those who dared make him bend the human knee in a manner not completely dissimilar to Nancy Allen and John Travolta at the end of Carrie, although maybe I'm just imagining the frame spinning around and around.
And while I don't know if some photo-reference specialist at Saitō-Pro had to draw the panel of the muzzle flash on pg. 81 or simply copy it from the extremely similar image of such from the jungle assassination nine JPEGs above, I would place a very modest amount of money on Takao Saitō himself drawing the final panel of Golgo 13 surveying his handiwork. That, friends, is an anti-hero shot.
PLEASE NOTE: What follows is not a series of capsule reviews but an annotated selection of items listed by Diamond Comic Distributors for release to comic book retailers in North America on the particular Wednesday identified in the column title above. Be aware that some of these comics may be published by Fantagraphics Books, the entity which also administers the posting of this column, and that I also run a podcast with an employee of Nobrow Press. Not every listed item will necessarily arrive at every comic book retailer, in that some items may be delayed and ordered quantities will vary. I have in all likelihood not read any of the comics listed below, in that they are not yet released as of the writing of this column, nor will I necessarily read or purchase every item identified; THIS WEEK IN COMICS! reflects only what I find to be potentially interesting. You could always just buy nothing.
Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero: Being the newest Drawn and Quarterly collection of work by Michael DeForge, this time a weekly webcomic that approximated what the artist's presence in an alternative weekly could have looked like in an era when those things were more common. A very particular melange of family drama, outdoorsy Canadian literary burlesque, overt self-parody and bleak gag work, presented as a 96-page, 10.9" x 5.8" two-color hardcover; $24.95.
The Interview: And here is the next Fantagraphics release from Italian-born cartoonist Manuele Fior, following quickly on last year's translation of 5,000 km Per Second. This is a newer work, released in Europe in 2013, concerning a psychologist and his patient encountering what seems to be an interstellar message from an alien race. "[A] science fiction novel that eschews the stars in favor of the delicate, fragile, interior world of human emotion," sez the publisher. A 6.75" x 9.5" duotone hardcover, 176 pages; $24.99.
The Torture Report: A Graphic Adaptation (&) Terms and Conditions: The Graphic Novel: Two very different, opposing strains of thought here. Torture Report is the work of Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón, a pair of longtime genre comic hands who, in 2006, achieved a new degree of visibility through their production of The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, a comics version of findings by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States which proved novel and perhaps more readily accessible to some readers than the source text. Many nonfiction works followed, with The Torture Report, a 144-page Nation Books release, providing a presumably similar rendition of 2014 findings by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence concerning CIA practice during the George W. Bush administration. Terms and Conditions, meanwhile, is artist R. Sikoryak's parody of this impulse, transforming the October 21, 2015 update to the iTunes Terms & Conditions into a conceptual graphic novel, with each page finding the style of a different cartoonist or creative team seeking poignantly to dramatize the most skippable text ever drafted. A huge swathe of international styles are attempted, ranging from newspaper strips to manga to Euro masters to recent Image Comics and bookstore market hits. A Drawn and Quarterly softcover, 108 color pages; $16.99 (Report), $14.95 (Terms).
Fire!!: The Zora Neale Hurston Story (&) A Treasury of XXth Century Murder Compendium Vol. 1: More from our world of nonfiction, courtesy of two alt-comics lifers. Fire!! is the latest comics biography from Peter Bagge, whom I cannot say I predicted would be heading in this direction. Busy Drawn and Quarterly publishes 104 color pages on the author and folklorist of the title, a divisive figure in the Harlem Renaissance and beyond. A Treasury of XXth Century Murder is the most recent iteration of a longstanding passion of artist Rick Geary, detailing various historical killings from a sober perspective. The 240-page NBM "Compendium" collects three earlier volumes (The Lindbergh Child, 2010; The Terrible Axe-Man of New Orleans, 2010; Madison Square Tragedy, 2013) into a single hardcover; $21.95 (Fire!!), $27.99 (Murder).
Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe: The Movie Adaptation: If you thought writer/artist Tom Scioli was finished playing with Hasbro toys... you're sort of right, but not entirely! This 40-page IDW special represents Scioli's 'adaptation' of a (wholly imaginary) movie based on his own 2014-16 series with co-writer John Barber, which will be getting an all-in-one collection of its own next month. I really enjoy this stuff - some of the only throwback map-of-my-interests genre work to incorporate the influence of stuff like Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X among the poppier cartoon standards. Preview; $4.99.
The Black Flame Archives #1 (of 7): Speaking of offbeat fantasy fare, this Devil's Due/1First series -- "1First" being the present form of the former First Comics -- promises a re-colored presentation of a backup feature Tom Sutton pencilled for Starslayer in the mid-'80s with inker Don Lomax and writer Peter B. Gillis. I've never read this stuff, but I'll look at Sutton's art, sure; $5.99.
Judge Dredd: Deviations (&) Judge Dredd: Cry of the Werewolf (&) Judge Dredd: Every Empire Falls: Three distinct flavors of authoritarianism from both sides of the Atlantic, sometimes all at once. Deviations is part of the U.S.-based strain of Judge Dredd comics from IDW, albeit written and drawn by a longtime 2000 AD contributor, John McCrea (colored by Mike Spicer) - it's a What If...? type of thing, following up on a 1983 storyline that saw the title character transformed into a werewolf. At the same time, Cry of the Werewolf is IDW's new presentation of that very story, written by John Wagner & Alan Grant and drawn by Steve Dillon, who died last year. The 48-page special is structured, in fact, as a memorial to Dillon, with pieces of tribute art accompanying the b&w/color main story and a portion of the proceeds donated to the Hero Initiative, apparently Dillon's preferred charity. Every Empire Falls, on the other hand, is a Rebellion collection of seven recent stories from 2000 AD, written by Michael Carroll and drawn by various artists, including Dredd co-creator Carlos Ezquerra; $4.99 (Deviations), $5.99 (Werewolf), $25.00 (Empire).
Goodnight Punpun Vol. 5 (&) Master Keaton Vol. 10 (&) BLAME! Vol. 3: All the manga of note to me this week comes from continuing series, so I'll do this quickly. Goodnight Punpun is VIZ's two-in-one release of brutal youth comics by Inio Asano, I believe set to be complete, therefore, in 7 books. Master Keaton is yet more episodic insurance investigation suspense/sentimentality created by Naoki Urasawa & Hokusei Katsushika. There should be 12 volumes of this in total, unless VIZ is also planning on releasing the 2012-14 revival series, which would up it to 13. BLAME! comes from Vertical, dropping another 354 pages of Tsutomu Nihei's architectural action comics in a very flattering oversized format. There should be 6 of these; $24.99 (Punpun), $19.99 (Keaton), $34.95 (BLAME!).
Starstruck - Artist's Edition (&) Edgar Rice Burroughs' Pellucidar: At the Earth's Core: Finally, we have a pair of releases representing older works by a colleague of the late Bernie Wrightson, the still-active Michael Wm. Kaluta, whose Starstruck: Old Proldiers Never Die series with writer/co-creator Elaine Lee is currently ongoing from IDW. Naturally, that same publisher is behind the Starstruck - Artist's Edition, a 12" x 17", 144-page hardcover presenting the original 1980s Heavy Metal/Marvel Graphic Novel serial along with two issues of the subsequent Epic comic book series in the form of Kaluta's original art, shot in color. Pellucidar is a 104-page Dark Horse collection of '70s DC comics, including a 1973 issue of Weird Worlds drawn by Kaluta (written by Dennis O'Neil), along with other stories drawn by Alan Weiss and Dan Green; $150.00(-ish) (Starstruck), $12.99 (Pellucidar).