Comics

Four-Eyed Stranger #10: The God of Comics Goes to Hell

Oliver Ho
The Devil, You Know: In MW, Osamu Tezuka touches on themes of sin and redemption that remain relevant thirty years later.

A chilling work by the most famous figure in Japanese comics, MW is also eerily prescient, utilizing themes and topics that are as relevant today as they were in 1976.

The cast of characters includes a terminally ill survivor of childhood sexual abuse, now a sadist, kidnapper and murderer, and a Catholic priest who is not only the killer's lover, and true love, but also the person who abused him 15 years ago.

More than 30 years after its initial publication, MW still has the power to unsettle. The themes in this stark manga by Osamu Tezuka cover not just the nature of evil, guilt, and sexual and personal identity, but also post-war Japanese history, terrorism, protest and governmental abuse and mistrust.

Despite the extremely dark territory that it delves into, MW never veers into graphic depictions of sex and violence. Tezuka also seems to remain non-judgmental about his characters, showing us instead how they wrestle with their guilt (or lack thereof), and empathizing with all of them. Consequently, the reader experiences the same objectivity, which adds to the chilling effect of Tezuka's story.

Originally serialized in Biggu Komikku ("Big Comic), a seinen manga magazine, between 1976 and 1978, MW was republished earlier this year in English by Vertical.

It's a massive, nearly 600-page paperback similar in format to Vertical's 2006 edition of Tezuka's Ode to Kirohito, and Drawn and Quarterly's edition of Yoshihiro Tatsumi's A Drifting Life in 2009. All are physically and psychologically heavy, epic stories, and of the three, MW is by far the darkest.

Even though Tezuka may best be known for more child-friendly work like the legendary Astro Boy, and for being the prolific "god of comics," much of his work is tinged with darkness.

In MW, he seems to give free reign to those impulses. This is Tezuka's gekiga, a storytelling style that in many ways developed as "anti-Tezuka" around the late 1950s, and tended towards grittier, more realistic and often more violent stories.

MW follows Father Garai and Michio Yuki on their quest to find a hidden stash of the chemical weapon known only as MW. Along the way, Garai wrestles with his conscience, while Yuki commits many kidnappings, rapes and murders, and maintains a physical and spiritual love affair with Garai.

The two are "bound by fate," as Garai says. Fifteen years prior, they met on Okino Mifune island. The "young and ignorant" Garai had joined with a gang who called themselves the "Crows," and they happened upon Yuki, who was a child.

"This was during the period set between the 1960 and 1970 security pacts between Japan and the U.S., and all over the world, groups of vagabonds and drifters were forming," Garai explains to his bishop. "Some of the movements were little better than gangs of hoodlums."

The fishing village actually disguised a "foreign military storage facility" that "housed a top-secret chemical weapon developed by a certain nation X to inflict mass casualties in Vietnam and Laos ... a weapon called MW."

There's an "incident" involving the MW, leading to governmental cover-ups, political assassinations and more. There's also an incident between Garai and the boy, which also leads to greater tragedies in years to come, and even though Garai went on to become a priest, he and Yuki have been lovers ever since.

At one point, Garai attempts to confess to his bishop. Garai explains his affair with Yuki by trying to portray the young man as a shape-shifting demon who "transforms himself into a woman and seeks my flesh."

The motif of shape-shifting seems to recur throughout. Garai attempts to transform from a violent thug and pedophile into a soul-saving priest. Yuki shifts his identity and sexuality according to his needs. Various politicians and power-mongers shift their allegiances as news of MW's existence spreads.

There are also many fascinating visuals. When Yuki suffers periodic attacks of pain, possibly the result of his exposure to MW as a child, the images of his haunted face recall the sweating and ghostly-eyed faces in Hideshi Hino's work. During one sexual interlude between Garai and Yuki, they transform inexplicably into characters from Aubrey Beardsley drawings.

This is a crime story with wider ambitions than merely thrilling its audience (although it does that very well). The comic is rife with references to political and social commentary. There's an interesting scene late in the story, when the lead investigator on Yuki's trail is denied entry onto a U.S. base in Japan, and he exclaims, "Bastards! Where's our sovereignty?"

There are also reference to the event in Japanese history that overshadows the entire century. When one character learns of MW's destructive power (which is also the power that Yuki wields), he says, "Come to think of it, the atom bomb is an indiscriminate killer too."

-------

Appearing every other week, Four-Eyed Stranger looks at classic manga reprints and unusual modern work by Asian artists.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image