Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Monster: If I don't get more caught up on this series, I'll feel like there's one in my closet

Right off the bat, I should mention that today marks the one-year anniversary of my blog. I started the thing on November 13, 2006 with a lame "Here I am!" post, but I quickly followed up with some actual content. It took me a while to find my voice, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of this sort of thing. It's been a good year, and I'm really enjoying blogging. It's nice to feel like people are interested in what I have to say. For a while there, I had a daily schedule going, if not even more frequent, but I've eased off a bit now (although I've been doing writing for other sites, so it's not like I'm just slacking off). I'm not as interested in doing a "weekly roundup" of books or whatever, and my tastes have shifted away from monthly superhero comics in the direction of indie-type graphic novels and manga, so I mostly just post whenever I finish a book and want to write about it. That seems to work pretty well for me. I have been continuing to do a look at weekly releases and monthly solicitations, so that helps me keep up with the posting. So anyway, I think I'm still developing my voice and writing style, and I hope to keep it up for years to come. Thanks for tuning in, everyone, and I hope you continue to stop by!

Anyway, I've got an actual review below, but first I wanted to point out a a couple other reviews that are up at Silver Bullet Comics: Maintenance #6 and Hellboy: Darkness Calls #6.

Also, I finally got around to scanning the sketch Rutu Modan did in my copy of Exit Wounds, so you can see that in my post about her appearance in Chicago, if you're interested.

On with the show:

Monster, volume 3
By Naoki Urasawa

I reviewed the first volume of this series back when I read it, but I never really looked at the second because I couldn't really think of much to say that I didn't mention in that review. And really, I could say the same for this third volume, but it's worth talking about, if only to point out how the mystery behind the series deepens and becomes more compelling.

In volume two, Dr. Tenma did some investigating of Johan, the killer whom he accidentally enabled, and managed to get accused of the killings for his efforts. So now he's on the run, but still trying to find out what he can about Johan's background. It seems Johan and his sister were adopted by the East German political figure and his wife after spending some time in orphanages, but before that they came from Czechoslovakia (I imagine their origins will be explored further as Tenma continues to dig up dirt). Later, they bounced from one set of adoptive parents to another (or Johan did, at least), with Johan building up political influence and honing his killing skills. At least, I think that's the story, up through what we've found out so far. It's only the third volume (out of eighteen), and things are already getting complicated (I hope I don't have to draw a map for this one like I did for 100 Bullets).

It makes for exciting reading, trying to figure out what happened while Tenma faces current threats, mainly the danger of discovery; a Japanese man is probably easy to spot wandering around Germany and asking questions. But he's still got that noble doctor's spirit, helping out with any medical emergencies he encounters, like David Carradine or David Banner, if they had M.D.s instead of kung fu skills or gamma-irradiated blood. He's pretty awesome with his doctor skills too, performing brain surgery on an old lady in a small village's meager doctor office.

In this volume, we also see an example of Johan's brainwashing, and learn about a harrowing experience that he caused as a boy when he was in an orphanage called 511 Kinderheim. It's a freaky scene, with Tenma confronting somebody from Johan's past and trying to save a young boy. In fact, it's one of several examples in this volume of Urasawa's skill at building tension. He has a nice, detailed art style, but a pretty restrained use of panel layouts (compared to some manga), sticking mostly to rectangular panels, but varying their arrangement. A lot of scenes are simply people confronting each other, but Urasawa varies the viewpoints and focuses on characters' expressions and reactions, really playing up the emotion of the scene:

This is especially impressive in a confrontation during the aforementioned surgery; with characters' faces covered by surgical masks, they have to express emotion solely with their eyes, but what they are feeling is never in doubt:

There's plenty more that I could talk about here (I love the sneering criminals, honorable terrorists, and grim brainwashees, just to name a few of the undiscussed aspects), but I guess I'll save it for later installments. Urasawa is a master at crafting suspense and drama, and I can't wait to see what he has in store.