Comics Time: Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vols. 4-5

Naoki Urasawa’s Monster Vols. 4-5

Naoki Urasawa, writer/artist

Viz, 2006

200+ pages each

$9.99 each

Buy them from Amazon.com

By now it’s clear that that sore-thumb final chapter of Volume Two, where Tenma briefly brings sunshine into the life of a mercenary and his heretofore damaged adopted daughter, isn’t the exception, but the rule. Monster, it seems, will be not just about Tenma’s game of cat and mouse with Johan, the serial killer whose life he saved, nor even just about that plus the parallel chases of Inspector Lunge as he hunts for Tenma and Johan’s sister Nina as she too hunts for Johan. Instead it’ll be like, I don’t know, The A-Team, where Johan, Lunge, and Nina’s quests will intersect with a variety of conflicted medical professionals, memorably evil criminals, memorably humane ex-criminals, shadowy governmental agents, and so forth in each “episode.” We’ll bounce them off our leading players, an incremental revelation will be proffered to the heroes, an epiphany will be reached by the guest stars, someone will be murdered by Johan or his minions, and the cycle begins anew. A lot of this is Velveeta, but I’m never not racing through it to find out how this ties into the increasingly byzantine and red-herring-laden backstory of Johan, or who’ll get capped and how and why. It helps that Urasawa bothered to situate the story not just in some generic “present day, local location” setting, but in post-Cold War Germany and its medical community; like the realistic backgrounds provided by his studio, the details of reunification, the far-right underground, the role and status of immigrants, the expertise and moral dilemmas of its doctor characters–they all give the story weight, depth, and shading even at its broadest and most black-and-white. It’s getting a little hard to keep track of all the square-headed middle-aged men with pointy noses, however, which is what makes the few character designs that deviate from that norm–the balding, hulking, doughy serial killer Jungers, for example, his eyes whited out by the reflection off his glasses–such a pleasure to encounter. In that same spirit, Monster seems a saga of simplistic structuring shored up by entertainingly complicating wrinkles.