Eternal Granite Features

Golgo 13 Vol. 9 (of 13): Headhunter

There's an interesting (if characteristically brief) essay in the back of this latest volume, from Makoto Tezuka, active filmmaker and son of a certain famed manga artist. The occupation is pertinent, since he analyzes creator Takao Saito’s approach to comics in terms of film.

That may initially sound a bit dull, I admit, since comics are often evaluated in filmic terms, but Tezuka actually has some relevant comments to make on Saito and company’s dogged adoption of straightforward film grammar -- apparently to the point of simulating the use of appropriate lenses for various ‘shots,’ despite obviously not having to worry about things like keeping focus -- as a means of keeping the reading experience as easy as possible. I don’t think I buy Tezuka’s assertions that Golgo 13 as directly translated to film would prove “experimental” due to the excessively taciturn nature of the title character (after all, the comic itself spends half its time working around such narrative limitations), but I definitely dig his notion that Saito’s almost spooky devotion to total narrative stoicism and wholesale evasion of conceptual evolution qualifies as something of an artistic statement - certainly it serves the stony Duke Togo well to star in a comic that gets it done in such an unassuming (yet effective!) manner over the decades.

And thank heavens that someone else is willing to draw parallels between Golgo 13 and Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack! Even if it had to be Tezuka's literal son. And the director of a Black Jack movie.

Curious that this material would show up in the back of this volume, since the lead story, Accidental (Story #61, August 1972), is from early enough a point in G13 history that the presentation isn’t quite as steely as it’d eventually get. Sure, the plot is a simple and effective play on the Golgo 13 concept: Duke’s client-provided hardware misfires during a hit, causing Our Hero to leave no stone unturned on a perfectionist assassin nerd rampage to find out who fucked up his stuff. Who cares about politics when you've got a reputation to maintain? Certainly not this character, he and his eye of God.

But little things are amiss in the Saito style: we’re privy to Duke’s thoughts a bit more than usual, the page compositions are unusually constricted (which may be a reproduction issue, actually), and Duke even expresses -- gah! -- mild agitation at the sight of a sympathetic character meeting their doom. The details are a bit rougher and dirtier than we're used to seeing, with more of a lurid, men's magazine, Kazuo Koike-type vibe (actually, Koike himself was a writer on Golgo 13 in its early days - maybe the tonal similarity isn't coincidental), the sex guiltier and the killing less studied. But the story’s still well-formed in the Saito Pro way, with a web of period Sinai Peninsula intrigue fluttering to bits before the steely testosterone majesty of two hard men left to evaluate one another’s hardness. It’s in plastic wrap, folks!

The second story, Headhunter (Story #204, October 1983), is farther along enough on the timeline that it can relax in the established groove of the series - the art is simultaneously more elaborate and occasionally dashed-off, and the story’s all hopped up on international trickery and faintly nonsensical melodramatic struggle. While Golgo 13 never quite 'develops' much as a concept, it zigs and zags within its confines enough that it doesn't seem repetitious, which is probably how Saito has managed to provide for his statement's longevity.

It’s also one of those stories where Duke pops in only twice, when matters need resolving, so much of our time actually being spent with a determined old warhorse, founder of a renowned corporate ‘headhunting’ firm, who must use all his skills to uncover the secrets of America’s shadowy private intelligence industry, big-time spy companies buying out whole nations, a moist ‘n fatty metaphor for ‘80s corporate expansion. Frenzied skullduggery, breathless factoids, occasionally jarring humor (I’ll give Saito and company cultural crossover credit for whipping up a credibly daffy pulp version of Big Business in the US, but I made The Uh-Oh Face after the second comically nervous black character in a row appeared), and off-kilter moments of grace follow, telling lines rattled off casually, as glimpsed through that fixed, Almighty vision.

"Well, it'll be warm where we're going."

Oh, no doubt. We know who runs the cosmos around here.