February 3, 2011

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Jormungand Vol 4

Written by Keitaro Takahashi
Illustrated by Keitaro Takahashi
Viz

A battle of wills and a battle of bullets dot rural Africa as Koko and her crew duel with Chinese arms dealers for the rights to robotic designs that could change the weapons game--if only the designer would stop chasing butterflies. Then it's off to Europe, where diplomacy only gets you as far as the next set of weapons. Can Koko put on a show for a former actress who's in the arms trade, too? And how does the CIA fit into all this? Find out in the fourth volume of Jormungand.

This volume was a return to form, as we again get to see Koko's crafty side, using her outside appearance as a ditz to cover her devious tracks. She's dancing through the raindrops here, trying to stay alive against a heavy hitter, splitting her forces when she thinks it will have the best effect, and doing her best to stay one step ahead of everyone else--not easy when the players keep getting craftier. Roping in the CIA might be the best of her tricks--nothing like having the US Government provide you with cover, both physically and politically. Each of these steps is dangerous, but makes logical sense within the cynical world in which Jormungand is written--a world that I fear is far too similar to reality.

The action scenes continue to be darker, with a greater sense of urgency. There's something extremely cold about the way in which Jonah casually explains how they can kill people simply by exploiting human nature. The body count in this one is fairly low overall, but menace is present throughout. However, to counter this darkness, we get an entire chapter that shows Jonah enjoying himself with a game of paintball against one of Koko's other agents while the rest of the team looks on. It's a great, humanizing moment that allows us to start to like these characters again, no matter what they do during the primary action. I like the balance Takahashi uses here, placing this chapter roughly in the middle of this volume, between story arcs.

I also liked that we started getting back to Koko's discussions with Jonah about her business. This also carries through to several of the other characters as well. There's a great line about drone planes making Asimov cry, and our robotics specialist bemoans the fact that even if she stopped making weapons, they'd use her technology to do it anyway--so why not profit? One of Koko's antagonists gives a brief monologue about the thrill of being part of an illegal (yet tolerated) game that has potentially deadly consequences. Not even a scare can change her mind about being a part of that world. It's terrible and yet intoxicating, which quite frankly describes the appeal of this manga quite well.

Takahashi's artwork continues to be very strong. I never have to re-read to figure out who's speaking or to try and determine what's happening in the action scenes, two things that drive me absolutely crazy when it comes to any comics, Western or otherwise. He also continues to do a great job with facial expressions, especially for Koko, using all parts of the face to help give depth to the dialog being spoken. There's a sense of energy in the panels, but it's structured energy. Like a well-directed action movie, this manga keeps things moving. It can't afford to let the pacing slip, and so far, I've been impressed with Takahashi's ability to keep the story going.

Jormungand didn't make my favorites of 2010 list, but the more I read it, the better I like it. The characters are evil yet compelling and the action story moves at a pace that fits its tone. If you stop to think too much, you'll wonder why you want to read about arms dealers, but Takahashi doesn't let you stop and think for more than a moment or two. This continues to be a great series from Viz's signature line, and I'm happy to continue recommending it.