Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Monster: Read this book if you want neo-Nazis led by an adult baby

Hey, another review! It'll probably be short though. But first: I contributed to Silver Bullet's end of the year commentary column. Consider my portion there a preview of a forthcoming "best of 2007" post. And now:

Monster, volume 4
By Naoki Urasawa



This series is actually kind of difficult to cover on a volume-by-volume basis. While it's an incredibly compelling series (I already went out and bought the next volume; let's see if I can actually get caught up to the current releases), the actual plot progression is somewhat minor in each installment. Thus, a review can easily become a plot recap, or something boring like that. Who knows, maybe later in the series I'll get caught up in speculation about what's going to happen, but for now I'm just enjoying the twists and turns. So I think pointing out some stuff I like about this volume will suffice for now.

So, the number one thing I dig about volume 4: The Baby. He's a crime boss leading a gang of neo-Nazis who want to recruit Johan (the serial-killing "monster" of the title) to be the next Hitler. And here's what he looks like:



That's how he's portrayed in nearly every panel he appears in, with an extreme close-up view of his face, distorted almost like a fisheye lens. It's very creepy, really adding to the weirdness of the character. Urasawa knows how to make a splash when depicting each of the multitude of characters in this epic.

Other cool stuff about this volume includes a great sequence in which Nina, Johan's sister who, along with Dr. Tenma, the ostensible hero of the series, has vowed to kill her brother, discovers his (Johan's) handiwork in dispatching a bunch of the Nazi goons:





I love the sequence of panels there; the first scan is actually the second page of Nina discovering dead guys, and it's a masterful double spread of her confusion as she's rushing around and seeing the bloody evidence. Then you turn the page, and it opens up to that splash page, with the darkness and the way the lines of the hallway focus directly on her emphasizing her solitude as the last living person in the house. It's masterful staging.

On more of a storytelling level, I also really like the two chapters that bookend the volume. The first focuses on Dr. Tenma's ex-fiancee as she dabbles romantically with her gardener, briefly allowing herself to feel some actual emotion before crushing him and vowing to destroy Tenma. It's excellent drama. The last chapter sees Nina meeting up and reminiscing with an old employer of hers, whom she sought out because she believed he was a hitman. Was he? Well, I've spoiled enough already, but I will say that the scenes between them lead to some really nice emotional moments. And here's another chance to talk about the art; check out this bit where Urasawa has a character show emotion without us seeing his face:



I love the way you can almost see his neck muscles tightening. And this leads to a a cool, dynamic page:



Man, gotta love it. Urasawa mixes the action, drama, and intrigue here to great effect. Like I said, I expect to devour volumes as quickly as I can. Volume 5, coming up!