Even the most casual readers of Rick Remender and/or Sean Murphy should know exactly what to expect when coming to Tokyo Ghost #2, without having to read its first issue; that is, a caustically cautionary, character-driven, roughly chiseled delirium of dystopian futurism. And as the same folks might also expect, it’s pretty fucking great. Arguably the biggest development in this issue of Tokyo Ghost is the backstory we get of main characters Debbie Decay and Led (“Teddy”) Dent, as Remender and Murphy firm up the spine of the history that brought them together. Based around a sort of skewed Adam and Eve framework, their lifelong relationship dynamic explores a dangerous myopia of gender roles, as well as the fatalistic, fame-obsessed hedonism that so clearly stands as commentary of our own collapsing and consumptive culture.
Around this is framed a narrative that leads our erstwhile lover-heroes into further misadventure, once again at the behest of their big boss: the dick-swingingly soulless entertainment magnate, Mr. Flak. Obsessed with finding out what has made Japan an apparent paradise, and desperate to claim it for himself and his business, Flak orders the two to the island nation to assassinate the warlord responsible for hoarding the national resources with which it has become so mysteriously flush.
It is in this conversation that we are given an ample dose of the harsh human condition in this world, which is best summed up in Flak’s epiphany that, “Consumption gives human life meaning.” Wanting no part of a society where that mentality is so prevalent, Debbie agrees to “one last job,” in exchange for freedom from his indentured service. But she’s got something else up her sleeve.
One thing I love about Remender’s writing is that he makes even his story’s greatest evils endearing; sometimes, even, at the expense of his heroes. It’s something he did in his Uncanny X-Force run, and more recently in Black Science. Here, Mr. Flak’s bourgeoisie braggadociousness is, by nature, gut-churningly awful (his servants drink his bathwater for fuck’s sake); and yet, he does a decent enough job pleading his deeply pessimistic case, giving exactly zero fucks while flagrantly finger-blasting the open sores of an overly-disposable society. Seemingly sewing together “The Most Interesting Man in the World” (of Dos Equis fame) and Donald Trump (which, presumably, would be a slow hell for the latter, given his race politics), Flak is victor of all Western spoils - the pipe-smoking, gun-toting American wet dream - and it’s almost impossible not to love hating him (hence the earlier Trump reference).
On the other end of the spectrum is, of course, Debbie, who is desperate to reclaim some measure of the low-fi refuge she once knew as a child. And while Remender unfolds that personal history here in a fairly verbose way, filling a few pages’ righthand margins with a strangely claustrophobic bevy of liner notes, it becomes a perhaps not unique, but definitely satisfying 21st century tragedy. How well that will collide with the resurrection of feudal Japan is anyone’s guess, but its lead-up thus far has been at very least infectiously frenetic.
As regards art, well... what more is there to say than Sean Murphy is a fucking monster? While at the same time cultivating his instantly-recognizable style, Murphy also proves his range in Tokyo Ghost #2. It’s generally accepted that Rick Remender has a rather fun habit of being... loquacious, but Murphy is able to accommodate him with impressively detailed and visually imaginative aplomb.
He does this while casting some explosive panelling, his trademark endless kinetics and beautiful photorealistic portraits, which stand out against the jagged bristle of his normal style. It continues to amaze me how equally comfortable Murphy is in flitting his stories through brief mini-panels, and in allowing them to hang and linger, in this case over a particularly gorgeous double page spread. His art is such a heady collision in that way, which of course makes it perfect for the story being told in this book.
Like most visually-striking titles, of course, Tokyo Ghost #2 is also a story partially told in color, and Matt Hollingsworth shoulders his fair share in making its visual direction truly pop. What starts in the fluorescent meat-pink hue of LA’s captive humanity, shifts into an almost hard-to-look-at ethereal green, which is itself then used as a backdrop to a bright kaleidoscopic last-page reveal. He sets this all beneath a mottled veneer of atmosphere, giving the whole this grimy feel that is just perfect.
Rounding things out nicely is the lettering of Rus Wooton, who, like Murphy, is clearly having fun experimenting, while also corralling Remender’s verbosity into a less chaotic experience and cracking a few little visual gags to boot.
Visually stunning with a topical narrative that takes a stance without feeling pretentious, all wrapped in a fun steampunk adventure, Tokyo Ghost #2 is a fantastic complexity of factors that ranks pretty damn high on my list of recommendations. Definitely check it out!
Tokyo Ghost #2 Writer: Rick Remender Artist: Sean Murphy Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth Letterer: Rus Wooton Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 10/21/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital