Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Rei Hiroe overreaches slightly with his intricately plotted revenge / rescue saga that spans multiple volumes and kicks into high gear — finally! — in Black Lagoon volumes 7 and 8.
“El Baile De La Muerte” arc (aka “The Dance of Death” in English) started in volume 6 and continues to expand and somehow involve almost every major character who has ever shown their face in Roanapur. Young Garcia Lovelace returns to town with a new maid, who is almost as handy with deadly weaponry as his old one, to try to stop his beloved caretaker Roberta from painting the town red. And my “red,” I do mean literally red with blood. Roberta’s after the people responsible for Lovelace Sr.’s assassination and now that she is without her former master, she is a mad and dangerous dog who thirsts for bloody vengeance. She’s also fueling this trek on both drugs and madness and it is doubtful that anything but a bullet to the head can really “save” her from herself.
Garcia appeals to Rock, who may seem like a normal putz in a town that runs on violence and criminal activity, but somehow has the special superpower of higher reasoning / scheming skills. (Rock, a former Japanese salaryman, is just one member of the “Black Lagoon Company,” a group of modern pirates who will smuggle whatever you want if you’ve got the cash). Rock makes up his mind to help Garcia even though the odds are stacked against them. Roberta’s off the leash and she is about to blow the criminal underbelly status quo of Roanapur sky high as she’s got everyone from South-American terrorists to American intelligence officers in her sights. That means those that like the way things work in Roanapur — such as Chang the mobster and Hotel Moscow — have a stake in cleaning up this mess as quickly as possible as to not incur the wrath of the so-called “greatest nation on Earth,” the good old U.S. of A.
It remains to be seen, however, if there is anything Rock can really do to help Garcia get Roberta back in any form that might resemble “safe.” Finding that he’s getting nowhere running around town with just him, the kid and the new maid, volume 7 reaches an emotional climax when he tells Revy that if he’s the “bullet,” she’s the “gun,” and without her he’s pretty much useless. But when you put a gun and a bullet together…well, that is quite a deadly and intoxicating combination. This is a fascinating scene that almost makes the rest of the (somewhat convoluted) arc worth it…so long as there is some payoff where character development is concerned. And by “character,” I really just mean Rock.
Most of these volumes follow a series of very violent and dangerous gunfights between various factions who have their own particular motives and methods of dealing with problems like Roberta. As fond as I am of this title as a whole, in general I felt the fight scenes lacked a distinct emotional punch. Perhaps there are too many chess pieces on the board and the one Garcia’s placed his faith in — Rock — hasn’t seemed to have figured out how he can move on the board…or even if can possibly move the board itself.
In spite of my obvious interest in Rock’s character arc, it should be noted that Roberta’s personality disintegration does become a tragic loss through the eyes of Garcia in volume 8. The person he loved is so far gone she’s about to bite the jugular of her master’s son — metaphorically speaking — and she does not even realize that she’s doing it. His pain and suffering at losing yet another person he loves brought me emotionally back into the book, when the endless gun fights had lost me to a degree.
Significantly, Rock’s motivation for getting involves remains the intellectual mystery of both volumes 7 and 8. We are starting to get the sense he’s not helping Garcia because he “feels” for him particularly (unlike in the Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise arc, where Rock was still able to convince himself that he just wanted to “help” someone in need), but because it interests him to do “good” in an environment as messed up as Roanapur. In other words, Rock seems to accepted that he is playing a game and that often the stakes are other people’s lives. Even Revy’s. I’m curious to see how he reconciles that with his “good guy” persona and how conscious he is of how much he’s changed since he joined the Black Lagoon company.
While I have mixed feelings about the length of this arc, there is still plenty to keep the reader engaged with these volumes. I have high hopes for the considerable payoff Hiroe is planning for future volumes. Sadly, we’ve pretty much caught up to the Japanese releases but I look forward to seeing more of Rock ‘n Revy next year. As well as how anyone can possibly get out of this mess alive.
Review Copies provided by Viz Media.
Comics Should Be Good accepts review copies. Anything sent to us will (for better or for worse) end up reviewed on the blog. See where to send the review copies.