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Golgo 13 Vol. 7 (of 13): Eye of God

Volume 7 is book of changes for the current Golgo 13 series. Unless I’m grievously mistaken (EDIT: which I am - see here), it marks both the last of creator Takao Saito’s 13 favorite stories and the first of a group of 13 Japanese fan-selected stories. I’ve heard that the fan-favorites gravitate less toward the studied quasi-history of Saito’s predilection, and more in the direction of sex and violence and giant eagle wrestling and the like, so we should be in for some fun.

This volume also sees a shift in the bonus material, as suddenly File 13 entirely drops its treatment of super-assassin Duke Togo as a ‘real’ person, and English editor Carl Gustav Horn addresses the reader as himself to impart some English-specific information on the live-action Golgo 13 films. You know, all two of them. A bit more space is devoted to the earlier, 1973 film (titled simply Golgo 13), directed by Junya Sato and starring Ken Takakura, probably because few English-speaking people have actually seen it - it’s never been released on dvd, even in Japan, though Japanese vhs copies are apparently floating around. Horn has seen it though, and imparts some great historical information on the picture’s Iranian setting, a would-be swinging scene friendly to both the Japanese and film production, and home to some sexy domestic stars that would find themselves squelched by the Islamic Revolution of just over half a decade later.

The later, 1977 film (Golgo 13: Kowloon Assignment, although it's also sometimes called simply "Golgo 13"), directed by Yukio Noda and starring Sonny Chiba, is readily available in the US on vhs and dvd, and Horn’s coverage is far lighter and picture-adorned. There is a minor factual error, possibly due to deadline issues, which it is nevertheless my duty as a nerd to correct - in addition to the dub-only 2004 Kill Chiba box set that Horn identifies as the film’s sole US dvd release, there is also the more recent 2006 Sonny Chiba Action Pack, which actually presents the film in its original Japanese with English subtitles, an English dub optional.

(on a side note, be aware that both of the aforementioned Chiba packs also contain the 1975 Sato-directed feature Bullet Train, which actually teams both Takakura and Chiba in an action/disaster story that supposedly inspired the 1994 film Speed - the Chiba Action Pack contains as its third film the 1980 Kinji Fukasaku medical sci-fi epic Virus, which the title star has little more than a cameo in, while Kill Chiba sports 1974's The Executioner, a Terou Ishii-directed thing with Chiba killing the shit out of folks)

Ok, so how about those comics? Despite this volume’s two stores being (apparently) culled from two separate lists of favorites, there’s actually a single, unifying theme running between them: no man can make Golgo 13 their puppet.

The better of the two is the second, 1977’s Far from an Era (Story #126), which sees Duke hired by a wealthy California businessman for a curious assignment: he must deliberately miss a shot at the man’s wife, a pretty young thing with secret, scandalous ties to the Weather Underground, putting some fear of god into her by merely nicking off her tiny left earring, thus hopefully convincing her to sever those radical connections. But everything goes horribly wrong when a mysterious second assassin actually kills the woman at the moment of Duke’s shot, leaving the irate client to summon the police after our off-guard anti-hero.

In many ways, this is as basic a Golgo 13 story as you can find: an assassination, complications, a mystery, a little historical flavor, Duke standing triumphant as his foe sputters that he… he couldn’t possibly have made that shot… not in this windon a boat! There’s even a gratuitous sex scene with a lonely woman whom Duke shacks up with while on the run from the police, though I guess you can call it an extension of the story’s ‘trust vs. distrust’ theme, if you really feel like it. The story’s main pleasure comes from its sleek propulsion, its wonderfully tense finale, and its ultimately hilarious look at Duke’s superhuman vanity. It’s not that he’s particularly pissed that the police are after him, or even that he’s clearly been set up by outside forces - what’s really got him mad is that he’s been made to look like he’s missed a shot, and that little misapprehension will have to be corrected no matter what.

Also on tap is 1993’s Eye of God (Story #319), a surprisingly dense little package of cheeseball metaphors that doubles as a covert surveillance saga with the Israel/Palestine conflict as its backdrop. The real lead character is Augustus James Belmeyer, a brilliant satellite data interpreter and lecherous voyeur, a man who’s vital to US national security because of his preternatural aptitude for picking up tiny nuances and subtle suggestions in spy satellite footage, and then heads home to greet his library of nudie pin-up art with a hearty “I’m home, everyone!” before settling down to snap secret photos of the showering ladies in nearby buildings.

He’s also gone a bit mad, and is orchestrating a plot to gain total control over the US’s shiny orbital KH-13 spy satellite (note the number, ho ho) and become the world’s undisputed master of surveillance, a man with the eye of god. There’s another man with the eye of god out there, of course, and Belmeyer decides to manipulate G-13 into a position of powerlessness, exposing even the greatest covert assassin as merely a man who can be watched, for no apparent reason other than to prove his crazed superiority.

In contrast to the other story’s ‘Duke as vain superhuman’ motif, this one sets Our Hero firmly in ‘angry god’ mode, another of his default characterizations. Amusingly, Saito and his anonymous Saito Production workers set both random Act of God weather occurrences and Golgo 13 against Belmeyer, as if the man has pissed off every god that might be in the immediate area, and fully deserves what’s coming in the Grand Guignol ending. If there’s any real problem with this story, it’s that a sense of inevitability sets in a little too far from the actual ending; better stories, like Far from an Era, don’t clue us in to the exact means of Duke’s triumph until we’re nearly out of space.

But as always, there’s great moments, like the recurring image of Golgo 13 staring into the sky, one god gazing directly at another, and neither eager to budge from their superiority. Even when we know which one has to win, it's still compelling as all hell.

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