Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Monster Mash: Evil serial killers are evil

Elsewhere: I've got a review of Dark Reign: Fantastic Four #1 up at Comics Bulletin.  Jonathan Hickman!

Hey, I should mention that there are some spoilers here, if you haven't read the series before.  So watch out.

Monster, volume 11
By Naoki Urasawa



I'm gratified to find that I was right in my prediction about this volume: the murderous blond woman from volume 10 was actually Johan in a wig.  But that was actually pretty easy to guess; the rest of Naoki Urasawa's plot twists and complicated web of character interactions aren't so simple.  They are, however, incredibly gripping, with exciting developments coming along every few pages, and loads of bravura storytelling.  This volume sees some major events for Detective Suk, as Johan takes an interest in him and sets him on a similar path as he did for Dr. Tenma so long ago.  The question is why he would bother, other than just because it amuses him to mess with people's lives.  But he had more of a connection to Tenma, who saved his life as a boy.  Does that mean there's a hidden connection between Johan and Suk?  Or has Johan been doing this sort of thing everywhere he goes?

But what's even more interesting are the revelations about Mr. Grimmer, the journalist who is researching 511 Kinderheim.  After a particularly tense encounter that sees Grimmer and Suk pinned down in an abandoned building by agents of the former Czech secret police:



Later, Tenma makes his entrance to this part of the story, and Grimmer reveals that the reason he is so interested in the evil orphanage is that he grew up there.  This explains a lot, especially the way his constant cheerfulness seems so strange and offputting; it's all learned behavior, since he was programmed not to feel any emotion:



This turns him into a tragic figure, and one that is more directly involved in the story, rather than an outsider trying to get involved.  It's a sly move on Urasawa's part, and it leads to some excellent scenes, especially in a confrontation with the leader of the secret police.

Also good this volume: we finally get to hear what's on the tape of Johan as a child that Dr. Pedrov left to Grimmer, and it's as creepy as you would expect.  Which is a testament to Urasawa's skill; a scene in which characters listen to a voice on a tape is as gripping as any of the big confrontations in the series:



Another impressive moment comes when Nina returns to her childhood home, causing memories to surface.  Urasawa illustrates these in an offputting style that sees wavy, hesitant panel borders and what look like watercolor greytones, adding a creepy air to the jumble of context-less panels:



Beautiful stuff, as always.  

This volume seems kind of like a "setup" installment of the series, moving characters into place for bigger events down the road, but it's still full of excitement and intrigue, and a good helping of action and tense conversations.  On its own, it might seem a bit slight, but as part of the series, it's as integral as everything else.  Urasawa astonishes with his storytelling acumen, dribbling out bits and pieces of the plot in a way that satisfies but still leaves readers clamoring for more.  The next volume can't come too soon.