Recently, I was listening to the replay of a 2011 BBC Radio 4 documentary called Tim Key’s Suspended Sentence, in which the titular British comedian invites listeners on a journey to find the perfect literary opening line, while exploring what makes some of literature’s most famous introductory word salvos so iconic. In it, literary critic and author John Sutherland comes up with what I feel to be a great description of what a strong opening can do for a story, calling it, “the moment of copulation that all engagement with fiction requires.” I love that visual; it captures that first furtive yet intimate fumble at the start of a novel perfectly. And it’s a metaphor that works even better for comics.
Thanks to the double-barrel nature of its storytelling delivery device, the comic book medium absolutely requires a more multifaceted “coming together” than novels, such that the opening shot can’t just read well, it also has to look sexy, too. And in my opinion, as an example of the “come hither gaze” that Key describes opening lines to be in his aforementioned doc, the first panel of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost #1 is a damn near perfect eye-fuck.
In one static, closeup shot of a record player (of all things), a line of setting and three short dialogue boxes, this book establishes its intrigue, character voice, sense of place and the danger therein beautifully and succinctly. But, of course, neither does one line nor one panel a lasting story make, regardless of how ingenious its execution. So, does this one moment of perfect copulation feed into a satisfyingly intimate reading experience, or is Tokyo Ghost #1 just an empty promise; a tease, leaving the reader jazzed up, but with no release?
In the grimly-futuristic Island of Los Angeles, the constant consumption of information comes second only to breathing as humanity’s favorite natural reflex (blinking, presumably, being a distant third). With the entire populace mollified beneath the direct interface opiate of nanobotic stream feeds, Law is a hazy afterthought at best, and is regulated only by the Constables: a peace-keeping arm of the entertainment industry, the members of whom protect the audience (and more importantly, the ratings) of the all-powerful company, Flak Corp. Think of them as Judge Dredds with addiction problems.
Issue one follows two such agents - the unstoppable Constable Led Dent and his mouthy firecracker minder, Debbie Decay - as they hunt down the nefarious life-hacker, Davey Trauma, whose ability to possess anyone with nanobots (which is everyone) and his lust for mass murder, make him both a threat to and fine purveyor of mindless entertainment. What follows is a dystopian city-wide cat-and-mouse chase between Tank Girl and Ghost Rider/Juggernaut analogues, and a psychotic digital Riddler. And for the most part, it’s a wild, raucous and ridiculous ride.
Being a big mark for the gentlemen that co-captain the helm of Tokyo Ghost’s creative team, I came to this book expecting big things; and in that, it didn’t disappoint. Murphy’s art especially is the grimy, etched beast it’s always been, complementing the structure of this world in an aesthetic of true grit. Under his care, Tokyo Ghost #1 is the distilled essence of cyberpunk; a political graffiti tag scrawled with a butterfly knife on an Akira poster.
Everything from his tank-cycle-driven action to his familiar yet uniquely-inspired figure and background design work is awhirl with the dynamic kineticism of which only he is truly capable. This is classic Murphy, and it’s equal parts glorious and grotesque. Cast beneath the at-times washed-out, at others sickeningly vibrant neon colors of Matt Hllingsworth and peppered with some incredibly nuanced and fun in-joke lettering by Rus Wooton, the whole is given a pulpy, cocaine sheen that will keep you amped from its first page to its last.
As the other half of the promise made in that first panel, Remender does his level best to keep up with the art, and for the most part makes a solid go of it. He may not be able to land jokes in the same way Murphy is with his visual gags and meta-references, but some of his dialogue is downright sublime; the prime example of this being Trauma’s hilariously inappropriate fit of pseudo-messianic pique.
I have to say, however, that I was initially off-put by that particular character’s reliance on semi-current, quasi-l33t speak, but given his addictive fascination with the past (the man has weaponized versions of an NES controller and Atari joystick welded onto his fucking arm), he kind of gets a pass. Still, some of his dialogue especially felt forced to tick all of the boxes as regards his background and motivations.
Otherwise, though, it felt like Remender was back on form with this series, tapping into that mastery of interpersonal relationships (and how they affect not just the world, but the adventure therein) that so often, and so infectiously drive his more memorable stories. It’s clear that Remender is having fun again with Tokyo Ghost, and when he has fun, so do his readers.
To broaden that idea of a first line, inaugural issues, too, are important; to set tone, atmosphere and of course, interest. And in both the phenomenal initial hook for this issue, and it being itself a great way in to what I think will be an intriguing story, Tokyo Ghost #1 scintillates. And I for one will be coming back for more copulation next time.