Look! Some new-fangled thing all the kids are calling “man-GA.” Or is it “MAN-ga”? Oh, why can’t the Japanese speak English like the rest of us???? And I apologize in advance for not using any of the correct terminology. I’m just dim-witted that way!
So here’s 10 Beautiful Assassins, written by Thomas R. Hart and drawn by Elmer Damaso. It’s volume 1 of who knows how many, and it’s published by Seven Seas Entertainment. And it’s $10.99. If you care about price.
I really enjoyed this. I don’t know if it’s any good, but I really enjoyed it.
Here’s the scenario (“So what’s, so what’s the scenario?”): Bernie Black, that young man on the cover, shows up in Cannes and scams his way into a limo-driving assignment for Crystal Maiden (that young lady on the cover), the daughter of gazillionaire John Maiden (who looks suspiciously like a real-world gazillionaire who owns an entertainment empire named for a synonym of his surname). Why would Bernie want to drive for the drop-dead gorgeous but wildly spoiled Crystal Maiden? Because she’s wearing a necklace with the Blue Heart diamond embedded in it, and Bernie wants to steal it. He’s just like Cary Grant! As he drives her around, she chucks the necklace out the window in a drunken rage … and then tells Bernie it’s fake. When she collapses (she’s drunk, remember?), Bernie takes her home, getting a break in his quest to steal the diamond. Unfortunately, a girl named Lily is already stealing it. Oh dear. And so Bernie’s problems begin!
Lily gets away, Bernie gets caught, and he learns that John Maiden is, well, a bit nutty. Maiden has hired a woman named Madame Ichi, who we think runs whores but apparently employs the assassins of the title. Madame Ichi’s young ladies are trying to get the diamond back, and one of them tortures Bernie for information about Lily. But Crystal is intrigued, so she helps Bernie escape, and the two of them head off to search for Lily as well. That’s when things get weird, as an assassin tries to kill Bernie AND Crystal. John Maiden doesn’t like that very much. Did Madame Ichi order the attempted hit? Was it a mistake? What’s really going on between John Maiden and Madame Ichi?
The volume ends on a cliffhanger that opens up even more questions. Oh dear.
Hart writes this with a ton of energy, and he manages to keep things light even as people are trying (and in some cases, succeeding) to kill other people. It’s a nice, twisty story full of betrayals obvious and subtle. Hart does some nice things with the narrative to keep things jumping – when Crystal rescues Bernie, for instance, we see them escaping on jet skis, then Hart goes back and forth between their escape and how it led to that moment. He plays with chronology like this often, and although it’s a bit disconcerting at first, the giddiness of the way the story is constructed mitigates any momentary confusion we might feel (and, to be fair, it’s only a momentary confusion, if you’re even confused – I may be a doofus). He also does a nice job with the Bernie, Crystal, and Lily – it’s a love triangle waiting to happen. Crystal is spoiled rotten, of course, but she’s also upset that she’s not treated better by her father, which spurs her rebellion. She and Bernie, of course, don’t like each other, but Crystal finds him fascinating, which is why she helped him escape. Bernie and Lily, meanwhile, grew up together, so there’s history there, and that’s why Bernie wants to find her before the assassins get to her.
And it makes Crystal jealous. Even though she doesn’t like him. Yeah, sure.
Damaso keeps up with the manic energy of the script well, although I had to get used to the way he draws the book. The manga I’ve been reading is largely horror/sci-fi stuff (full disclosure: the manga titles I read regularly are: The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, Eden, Gantz, MPD-Psycho, 20th Century Boys, Pluto, and Monster), so I guess I haven’t been exposed to this kind of artistic style, in which Damaso often draws the characters as children. It’s kind of fun, just odd to see the first time. He does it when they react emotionally and somewhat immaturely to situations (most of the time; sometimes it seems like there’s no reason for it), and it’s not a bad conceit, although it’s a bit weird. He does a very good job with the kinetic style of the book, as the characters are often rushing around trying to escape assassins and such. It’s a fun book to look at, and Damaso does a nice job making sure we’re not lost. And his women are beautiful, of course. It’s right there in the title of the book!
Hart turns the story a bit darker at the end, and it will be interesting to see where he’s going with subsequent volumes. As action comics go, this is better than it has any right to be, and I’m not completely recommending it because it feels kind of slight until the very end. I don’t know how many volumes Hart and Damaso have planned, but as an opening chapter, this is an enjoyable chunk of comics. You can read it on-line if you check out the Seven Seas web site. But that’s no fun!
Tomorrow at noon: Can I ever find fault with The Middleman?