It’s safe to say that I’ve been pretty high on Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost, having given the Image book perfect to near-perfect scores over its past three issues. And while I maintain that this is a fascinating, well-written and absolutely gorgeous series about the downfall of mankind thanks to our own obsession with information and entertainment, its fourth issue - while far from bad - takes something of a strange divergence in its narrative power and depth. I mentioned in my previous review how, in finding a paradise in what is, for all intents and purposes, feudal Japan, main characters/lovers, Teddy (aka, the rehabbing murder machine, Led Dent) and Debbie Decay have happened upon a sort of reverse Garden of Eden story. In issue four, they meet their snake: an old face (or at least half of one) from the pair’s past, who is hell-bent on both avenging the sins of Led Dent, and making sure that the outsider duo don’t spoil the well in the garden, or allow other, more insidious visitors to darken its doorstep.
That, in and of itself, is not a bad setup for the story; but for me, it felt a bit convenient that this person and his reformed samurai chums would have such a coincidental connection to the past of Teddy and Debbie. Maybe that’s a strange thing to harp on in a book where light goddesses raise the dead and unkillable machine-man enforcers rage, but for a story that has so far been written with a great level of intricacy within its sci-fi framework, this felt slight and burdened with expediency.
Another thing that bothered me is that Teddy is such a goddamn dick. Now look, I get that he is still on the road to personal redemption and is most likely shaking off years of drug-addled apathy. I’m also generally a big fan of stories with moral ambiguity. But the character’s setup over the last few issues fell flat here into someone who is less a hero, and little more than an unrepentant frat boy. The same could be said of the previously more virtuous Debbie, who here seemingly allows Teddy to enact his murder spree without reproach, while the two exchange shriveled dick jokes. It all rang a bit hollow.
What does not disappoint, however, is Sean Murphy and Matt Hollingsworth’s art. While not boasting the blistering flourishes we’ve seen previously in the series, like lush double page spreads and electric character reveals, issue four’s direction is one of all-out action, playing like the big battle sequence in an old samurai flick. Awash in mottled blue backgrounds and pierced by explosive swatches of neon pinks and reds, Murphy’s chiseled and flayed style continues to scratch across Hollingsworth’s palette in a corrosive yet complementary clash of color. And even though Tokyo Ghost #4 isn’t firing on all the cylinders it has been narratively, it continues this issue to be a very special thing to behold visually.
Even with some of its problems, which may very well have only rubbed me the wrong way, I’m still high on Tokyo Ghost, both because of its art, but also because its last page tease of a “returning character” bodes interesting times for our heroes going forward; as does the big character death this issue. I do hope Remender can fold some of the weaker elements this issue back into the story with later issues explaining them, and that Murphy and Hollingsworth can continue to keep pace. If that can be managed, then I’ll continue coming back to get stirred by Tokyo Ghost’s haunt for many issues to come.
Tokyo Ghost #4 Writer: Rick Remender Artist: Sean Murphy Colorist: Matt Hollingsworth Letterer: Rus Wooton Publisher: Image Comics Price: $3.99 Release Date: 12/16/15 Format: Mini-Series; Print/Digital