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Manga Review: Takao Saito’s Golgo 13, Volume 1

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Hand it to the editors at Viz Signature when it came to premiering the first of its collections of Takao Saito's long-running super-hitman series, Golgo 13: they've definitely got their eyes on the times. First book of this 13-volume series of "Golgo 13's Greatest Hits" finds our master marksman-for-hire in 1997 taking on Iraqi boogeyman Saddam Hussein and his Supergun, an irrefutable weapon of mass destruction set to fire a rocket filled with deadly virus onto Washington D.C. Yup, right here in the pages of Golgo 13 is incontrovertible proof that the Iraqis were developing WMDs. I'd make a joke that this was probably the document our current president read to justify our going to war, but I'm fairly certain the guy would've been stymied by the reading back-to-front thing.

Golgo 13 is a lonnnnng-running adult manga action series centered around Duke Togo, an impeccable marksman who has a knack for showing up at various hotspots in modern history – unchanged despite the passage of decades. In Volume One of Viz's new reprint series, our taciturn mercenary appears in Iraq in the mid-nineties, but, in a second story set in 1979, he's also established as a hitman with a major rep. Volume Two's two episodes are set in Tianamen Square, 1989, and Tijuana back in '74. Through all four adventures, our protagonist has the same long sideburns and thick black hair: obviously, the man's found a look he intends to keep. Per the "dossier" included at the end of each volume, our hero's recorded exploits as an assassin began in 1968, but like any good comic hero away from Gasoline Alley, Golgo 13 doesn't age.

What he does do is shoot, screw (he has, his dossier helpfully tells us, "an amazing penis") and mainly keep his thoughts to himself: the kind of hard-boiled character who's defined as much by what he doesn't show us than what he does. In "Supergun," Duke Togo doesn't even make an appearance 'til the 40th page – and then it's only in a short snippet showing him crossing the Iraqi border. In another story, we never even see the gunman, though his presence is felt by all the other characters. As a story center, Golgo 13 brings to mind Jules Feiffer's memorable description of Will Eisner's Spirit as a "masked Mary Worth," coming in at the last to neatly tie things up.

Thus, both the Supergun and Tienamen Square stories devote considerable expository space to the politics behind each event before we get to any real tough-guy action. In "Supergun," we're treated to scenes of Bill Clinton and his advisors discussing U.N. inspector reports about mysterious shipments of titanium tubes to a dam at Am Shara ("I thought we were through with that mad dog," Clinton moans about Hussein) and learn the back-story of the fanatical armament pioneer responsible for the threatening Supergun before one of the government's nameless bureaucrats pulls in Golgo 13.

Pure superspy hokum, in other words, set in a world where intelligence reports are always accurate, centered around a marksman so infallible he only needs one shot to ever get the job done. Saito (or more accurately: Saito's writers and artists, since the series creator reportedly has about as much to do with his creation these days as Stan Lee has with the Marvel Universe) tells his tales in the straightforward manner of pre-winking James Bond (cf., Dr. No), though at times I found myself thinking of even cheesier sixties paperback spy series like Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm (not the awful Dean Martin movie version) or Killmaster Nick Carter instead.

The Saito Shop art is serviceable, even if the series' bland Clinton caricature doesn't always hold up and the otherwise indistinguishable women our hero beds have some genuinely scary noses. Befitting this type of story, hardware and setting frequently take center stage – and are often afforded more visual care than the people within – but the art generally pulls you along like the crisply efficient comic book panels of Silver Age superhero comics or an overlit B-picture. At times (as with a panel showing Saddam demonically grinning down at his watch as he waits for the countdown to begin), Saito's artists provide more cartoonish moments, though not as often as I'd like: lotsa good shots of folks sitting around and anxiously sweating, of course.

As for our heavy-browed hero, he remains cool throughout – whether calmly striding through the riots in Tianeman or bedding a big-breasted drug queenpin. Those seeking even a hint of fallibility in their action heroes are hereby advised to look elsewhere. This is Golgo 13: His Dick is Amazing!

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About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.