There’s a point in the newest Hiroaki Samura comic Der Wergelder where a bunch of sour faced yakuza dudes are sitting at a bar lamenting having their ass kicked by a women who was both a superior fighter, and physically superior as well, that kind of points to what was the strength and weakness in Samura’s older work Blade of the Immortal. In Blade of the Immortal, the most compelling figure is Mackie, and the dramatic arc of the whole thing is driven by Rin–but because of how Samura structured Blade of the Immortal in the beginning, both of these women were shackled to Manji and Anotsu early on, and because of that were never really put on center stage–this was something of a misstep, because as an artist what Samura is best, and his art best explores is violence to and by women. It’s why Mackie is his most compelling character, and why Brute Love is his most complex statement as an artist.
I bring this up because Der Wergelder represents a correction, because Der Wergerlder, amongst the many things that it is(and it is an absolute soup of Pinky Violence/Exploitation genre archetypes)–the first and foremost thing it is, is a center of focus on the women driving the narrative. While the men in Der Wergelder are largely interchangeable ineffectual goofs–the women are lightning wielding valkyries hellbent on undermining the whole system built by said ineffectual goofs.
It’s interesting that Blade of the Immortal was fundamentally a rape revenge tale, and Der Wergelder is that as well. As with Blade of the Immortal the focus of the rape revenge is slightly diffused because our point of focus is actually the character of Shinobu who hasn’t really been violated, but she’s flanked by Träne(pictured above), and Soli Kil–both of whom have. I suspect it’s because since both are such deranged characters, that falling into either of them would have completely imbalanced the narrative. But it’s interesting because it’s an inversion on the Manji-Rin relationship, where Rin was the poor fighting victim, and Manji was the tough–here Träne marries Manji’s acumen in battle, with Rin’s trauma–and then that leaves the sort of wide eyed wonder all expelled into Shinobu–who isn’t as naive as everyone around her kind of thinks. We’re also given a fourth woman, the gun-nunchaku Jie Mao, of whom not much has been said yet.
This all serves as a great platform for Samura to focus on his strengths of violence, women, and sex. There’s tinges of things like Bradherley’s Coach and Brute Love floating around here that weren’t as present in Blade of the Immortal. You could actually conceive of a world where Der Wergelder and Brute Love are happening concurrently, and for the same reasons.
The sense of Der Wergelder as an unhinged soup of elements feeds into its overall grindhouse feel. You’ve got lightning wielding one eyed germanic figures dressed like Meiko Kaji shooting everything in sight, nunchuku weidling chinese dress women diving out of helicopters with no parachute–cybernetic enhancements, Lupin looking dudes being led around on leashes and tortured with exercise equipment–there’s a part where a dude has sex with a woman who has been modified to be a mermaid…just kind of in there. It’s crazy when you think about it out loud, but it works in the same way 70s exploitation always works. Craziness glued together by over the top sex and violence–you’ll accept just about anything.
Even aesthetically Samura is throwing the whole bag at these pages. One of the most remarkable things in Der Wergelder is Samura’s usage of Zipatone:
It’s like an artistic guitar flange that he drops in several times throughout the book. All of these weird textures on top of the normal Samura styles:
It’s really funky, because I’m so used to seeing Samura’s figures over a particular thing, but they’re popped out over and over here with sometimes completely ridiculous textures–and it speaks to this notion he writes about in the afterword of the book, that he wanted to make a “manga without dignity” the wild freewheeling Samura puts on display in Der Wergelder is really fascinating, because I’m always interested in how artists use texture and the way that playing with the foreground and background through texture is a key component for keeping a comic dynamic even when nothing is really happening in terms of action. It introduces a play to the book that allows itself to be about its own image. As I’ve written about before, trash largely lives or dies on whether it can through its wild fuckness –whether it can give you the image or not.
This page is excellent, because not only do we get this dramatic zipatone reveal we also get this image of a buer demonsword(a demon you may remember from Julia Gfrörer’s Flesh and Bone comic) mixed with this sort of random image of a gagged Träne–which–is jammed in as a transition to the next scene–but here functions symbolically to speak to the horrors that Shinobu and Daisuke are speaking around. There’s a created dissonance though in the shift, going from the zipatone to the heavier inky brushed drawing of Träne.
Then you have a few panels like this, drawn with this super clean line style and much smaller zipatones, that look almost like a completely different artist–jammed in between two panels of older style Samura, but focused by the light and cleanliness. It’s all pretty cool, Samura is at that point as an artist where he feels very confident in his techniques, and switches freely between them both on a whim, and for page compositional/dramatic reasons. It gives the book this underpinning of really strange vibe. The art choices largely keep the book campy in a way that allows for all of the discordant elements to fit, and allows for Samura to slide in horror story that is essentially about baby harvesting rape farms–in a way that is awkward and crass in the most glorious ways. It’s staying power in its present form, and going forward I think will largely depend on how well it is able to stay in this space without being extracted into the predictable routine and modes that Blade of the Immortal could be mired in. I think one of the disjunctions in Samura’s work, is that at times Blade of the Immortal was a thin veneer over the monstrous abyss lurking in the back of Samura’s predilictions as an artist–and the extent to which he is removed from that darkness is the degree to which his work loses its beauty. My hope going forward with Der Wergelder is that it moves closer to Brute Love and Bradherley’s Coach but mixed with his bad bitches kicking ass characters–the roots of that kind of work are here in these initial volumes–if so, this could end up being a pivotal piece of work in Samura’s canon. If not it could herald a decline into bleh.
Oh yeah. Also: