October 2, 2013

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Halloween Horror: Monster Volume 1

If you love horror,you've come to the right place! It's another entry in Panel Patter's Halloween Horror 2013! You can find all my entries by following this Halloween Horror tag.

Written by Naoki Urasawa
Illustrated by Naoki Urasawa
Published by Viz

A brilliant surgeon turns away from fame and fortune after learning that the medical family he plans to marry into lacks the ethics of the Hippocratic Oath. He saves a young man from a bullet to the brain, leading to his d'emotion. Yet soon after, the doctor's life is salvaged when his opponents all die mysteriously. Years later, the doctor gets entangled in another set of murders, and eventually learns that the boy he saved might just be a killer on an unimaginable scale. Has the doctor created a Monster?

I'm cheating a bit here with this entry, because while it's very good, Monster isn't a traditional horror manga. It's definitely got some of the elements of horror, but they're more of the serial killer/thriller variety, at least here in this first volume. You won't find creatures trying to devour humans or vampires or anything like that.

However that doesn't mean this story isn't scary or fitting for horror fans. Urasawa, whose 20th Century Boys is one of my favorite manga series, takes a very Stephen King-like approach to the plot. Dr. Temna is an everyman who just wants to use his gifts for good. He's belittled by everyone for wanting to do the right thing, and now, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that he might be damned for doing just that.

The story starts off fairly slowly, and in another King parallel, there's a lot of repetition of themes and ideas in the early going. Dr. Temna is haunted by the voices in his head, then is hunted by a police investigator who's got a cool quirk (he taps his hands like he's entering information into a mental computer) and figures that Dr. Teman is linked to the murders. He's right, of course, but not in the way he thinks.

Once the plot gets going and we find out the premise of the story, the horror and irony of the situation hit home. Despite his desire to do good, Dr. Temna has created a Frankenstein's Monster, and how he deals with this problem should drive the rest of the series, which feels like it might go a bit long at 18 volumes, but I trust Urasawa, based on 20th Century Boys, to keep it fresh and interesting.

The art on Monster isn't quite as strong or refined as 20th Century Boys, which features linework that has quite a bit in common with Western comics. This manga is more traditional, with characters having features that resemble those of most Japanese comics. Chins are more angular, faces aren't quite as differentiated (though even here Urasawa shows he'll break form to give a character a sense of their own life), and outside scenes are definitely photo-referenced. Of note is Inspector Lunge, who bears a bit of a resemblance to Sherlock Holmes in his angular features and hairstyle.

While we do have quite a few deaths from the word go, there's little violence and no gore in the first volume of Monster. It's a restrained horror, and I wonder if that will continues as I read on or not. Regardless, this one's a great thriller with a sociopath whose reasons and methods are left open to exploration, even as Dr. Temna has to decide how to deal with the threat he created. Fans of Urasawa and serial killer horror definitely need to check this one out, if you haven't already.