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Review: Desert Eagle, Vol. 1

Text reading Dessert Eagle, with one S exed out, a young man staring at us, holding his hand vertically in a finger-gun motion, text reading Ken Wakui.
Despite what that the shapes in that hair would lead you to believe, not a Junji Ito Joint

This is not my usual kind of comic; I’m not generally intrigued by gangs and crimestyles and juvenile delinquency, no Kuwabara stan was I in the springtime of my youth. But something about the blurb—revenge, brotherhood, punching—spoke to me, as did the cover art, which hinted strongly at a flavor reminiscent of older-school manga while promising that there’d be more than that on the plate.

Our…’hero’ feels strong, but it’ll do, Ichigo is a bumbling pervert dumbass like Frasier before him—we are literally introduced to him hiding in a sewer drain to look up girls’ skirts—and never pretends to be anything else, but striving toward the good without worrying about the perfect is the key to why he works as a character and why this works as a story. Not unlike the titular protagonist of Yakuza Reincarnation, Ichi embodies the Noble Gangster archetype/trope/class/Tarot card, and while 100% devoted to a life of crime he is not interested in hurting anyone that doesn’t deserve it, and one of the main thrusts of the story is his disgust and shame at how far from their relatively virtuous ideas his mentors in the criminal demimonde have fallen.

I’m given to understand that Japan’s drug market leans much more heavily toward stimulants than depressants–a combination of historical factors regarding how cannibis was introduced and other cultural influences such as emphasis on productivity, etc., and this features in what becomes the book’s central conflict. The only ones who sell drugs in the story are the clear villains, and while even the Good Guys, in-story, don’t seem to have any particular problem with the meth their antagonist is slinging (aside from its use in a specific and obviously abominable act), the work itself does seem to think, much like Vito Corleone, that the drug trade is not part of an honorable criminal enterprise. This book has a lot going on; it has both a lot to say and a lot to show you, and those frequently overlap but are, ultimately, distinct tracks for the reader to ride.

Part of what makes this such a strong debut is the way that each of the individual chapters are semi-separate plot beats that work on their own but are also clearly bound in connective tissue and form a larger, interconnected story one piece at a time with increasing momentum. Helping his new friend beat the shit out of the guy that drove his mom crazy is great; it’s also great that it turns out that guy performed other functions in this world, and him being out of commission means other parts of the machine are going to shift in ways that will have natural consequences that will need to be dealt with. This should come as no surprise, really; the author’s previous work, Tokyo Revengers, ran for 28 volumes, was widely celebrated across difficult-to-traverse demographics and dealt with similar subject matter AND ALSO TIME TRAVEL, because why wouldn’t it, so this must’ve been a relatively straightforward change of pace (and I’ll be checking Tokyo Revengers out directly). I say ‘relatively’ because while the story IS a living system whose parts are all connected, and that’s part of what makes it great, living systems are still pretty friggin’ complex, to the extent that I had to cobble this together:

Y’know “how many times did you start this over” sure sounds like something a narc would say

There’s a final reason I recommend the hell out of Desert Eagle, Vol. 1, and I’ve saved it for last because it is, by a wide margin, the dumbest one. DE is worth your time because it is fucking bonkers.

It’s the italics on ‘up’ that get me, somebody give that localizer a hamburger

DE deals with extremely serious themes and depicts very upsetting acts and stories, but that doesn’t change the fact that this book fuckin’ goofy, y’all:

It’s a serious, realistic world filled with upsetting violence, and Ichi acts like he thinks he’s a cartoon character but is, in fact, made of very breakable teeth and bones and blood that druglords will be all too happy to spill, and those consequences do arrive but they never hang out for too long, and that’s maybe for the best; Ichi is, fundamentally, an extremely worrying force for good, punching his way through all of the problems in the world that we wish we could navigate with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Like, I guess in real life you could crash a crane-platform into an upper-floor room full of goons, but it would definitely end with a lot of people dead or in jail; the only place you could do that without long-term repercussions is in a medium like this one, and Wakui is canny enough to get away with rascally shit you could only pull off on the printed page:

Shut up comic book, you’re adorable

This balances nicely with the quality of the storytelling and art that is, as I suspected, definitely harkening back to an older style but with modern sensibilities and of the very highest caliber; all of these combine into a whole that I’ll keep reading as long as it keeps being awesome. Go check it out, you won’t regret it, unless you do, in which case sorry but like, what do you have against super fun books? What’s your deal? Are you okay? Ah, just stressed, huh, I get it, we all know this classic way. Know what I recommend for that? Try not being a fuckindrag and enjoy the damn comic.

–The Bageler

and we said nay; we are but men

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