The many ways to shoot them down.

Golgo 13 Vol. 3 (of 13): Power to the People

In a delightful attempt to strip me of what little money I have at the moment, VIZ elected to roll out no less than three new installments this week of manga I’m reading: Naoki Urasawa's Monster Vol. 3, Death Note Vol. 6, and this new slice of Golgo 13 (none of ‘em are out in the Direct Market yet, by the way). But I don’t have the money for all of that, so choices had to be made. And we know what comes first on this site, eh?

Yes, it’s another pair of exploits for Japan’s favorite super-assassin, Duke Togo, though this particular installment is a little different in several ways. For one, the stories are not taken from disparate points on the G13 timeline, as they usually are - instead, we get a pair of tales completed but three months apart in 1994. Also, this is the first book in this new series that puts Duke squarely in the ‘main character’ position for the purposes of both stories, rather than leaving him to lurk as a permeating force in at least one. And most interestingly, both of the stories here highlight sides of Duke’s character that don’t always come to the fore - his sense of personal honor, and his instincts for self-preservation. One of the stories doesn’t even involve an assassination, opting instead to focus squarely on what the infamous Golgo 13 does when his personal space is breached.

That’s handily the best story in here, the second one, titled A Fierce Southern Current (Special Story #39, April 2004 - not to be confused with the regular run of G13 adventures). Duke is contacted by an old client; already this spells trouble, as Duke treasures his privacy and independence, and is loathe to perform multiple services for a single contact. But the old client has news rather than a mission: a mysterious independent party has set up a $20 billion investment fund to be committed to whichever nation happens to establish legal title to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. Those big rocks are very oil-rich, and their ownership status has long been a bone of contention between surrounding governments, bodies that would simply love a cool $20 billion to drop out of nowhere (providing for none of the loss of political capital that borrowing such funds would inevitably cause) to bolster their sucking out of copious valuable resources. Already China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, and Taiwan are scrambling to make their case, hook up with US oil giants to sell of exploration rights, and stock up on weapons for a now seemingly inevitable clash.

Oh, and the investment fund is called the ‘G Fund.’ And there’s not many private parties in the world with that kind of money to throw around. But an enormously successful assassin, prone to charging tall sums for the toughest jobs, one who doesn't really take much interest in money beyond its use to facilitate the success of tougher hits - that kind of person might have the cash sitting around in Swiss accounts.

Except, Duke didn't set up the fund. Although it's plain that someone wants all the right people to think he has.

This will not do.

Thus, Duke sets off on an international journey of interrogation and kidnapping, all to determine who's screwing around with his reputation. Yes fans, he does bust out one of his cunning disguises. Interestingly, the writers of Saito Pro (the ever-shifting collective of people, headed by creator Takao Saito, who actually write and draw this stuff) really play up Golgo 13's status as something of an urban legend here - someone you might hear about from people, though only a certain few would know how to actually contact him, the results of his activities always easily chalked up to more believable causes. It's a bit like what some writers try to do with Batman, though it frankly works better with Duke, as he'd never devote so much of his time to one location.

Anyway, it's an entertaining story, stuffed with info on the history and politics of the Spratly Islands (as usual with G13 stories, an awful lot of it is fact-based), yet eventually giving way to showing off some interesting facets of the series' main character, especially when he discovers the conspiracy at the heart of it all. It's kind of like Syriana crossed with a Carl Barks duck short, one that focuses on how rich Uncle Scrooge really is, only it's 78 pages long and features a man knocking a helicopter into the ocean with one shot.

Less interesting is the 86-page Power to the People (Story #333, July 1994), which sees Duke summoned to South Africa by his former prison 'buddy' Nelson Mandela ("I didn't come here to accompany you down memory lane" hisses Our Hero) to quietly obliterate a camp of anti-government radicals, so as not to upset the tender state of the nation. That sounds awfully promising from just one sentence, but the story itself kind of just wanders around as Duke infiltrates the camp and sets about destabilizing them from within, taking down legions of men to the amazement and disbelief of all observers (that Duke, isn't he awesome?!?!). That's kind of the problem inherent to putting Duke at the head of any one story - if things aren't balanced out very carefully, the whole thing kind of gets tiring. Still, there's some good moments, history is again employed to provide a plot twist, and we see that Duke is always willing to help out those who help him without seeking anything in return, if only to 'pay them off' for later. He really is like Uncle Scrooge!

As a bonus, there's another installment of File 13, this time focusing entirely on Duke's beloved weapon of choice, the M16. There's history, and comparisons of different models, and even analysis of how realistic Duke's sniping posture is. All of the material cheekily treats Golgo 13 as if he was a real person, so we also get (real) advancements in weapon optimization 'credited' to Duke Togo's influence. And no, there isn't any... sensitive information this time out. Sometimes, a gun is just a gun.