It's difficult to get across to western readers the importance of Manga 'god' Osamu Tezuka. Cross Walt Disney, Jack Kirby and Will Eisner and you begin to understand the extent of his innovation and influence on Japanese comics and animation. Westerners know him best for Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion and its...cough... 'homage' by Disney The Lion King.
But by 1976 his position was being challenged by a new generation of Manga artists working in a more mature and dramatic style called Gekiga (dramatic pictures) Tezuka was rapidly becoming yesterday's man with his cute Disney cartoonish style (The big eyes and little mouth Manga is known for was actually Tezuka imitating Disney) and light approach to story-telling. All of that changed when Tezuka decided to challenge the new bloods at their own game and produced a perverse and swirling melodrama full of themes and scenes that are shocking even today.
There is fairly explicit homosexuality, pedophilia, rape, even hints of bestiality all illustrated in Tezuka's incongruously Disney cute style.
MW tells the story of Michio, an amoral sociopath, a beautiful young man rising high in the ranks of a bank office while at night he engages in a series of savage kidnapping murders and Father Garai, the despairing compromised priest who tries to save Michio's soul while being unable to control his lust for his body. As the story unfolds we learn of their history together and of MW, a deadly nerve gas that killed an entire island full of people and may be responsible for Michio's psychopathy.
The story is elaborate, almost byzantine, and some of the story elements work and some of them don't but the book still remains compulsively readable for it's almost 600 pages.
With this issue Mike Grell completes a story begun almost 25 years ago in the first run of the series, bringing decades old story elements full circle. There are fierce battles, secret identities revealed, arch villains getting their comeuppance and an elegiac farewell.
The art is beautiful and in the slightly strained story Grell is clearly trying to bring a new maturity to a series that historically was always rather formulaic. In the original series Travis Morgan was an air force pilot who found a lost civilization in the center of the earth - or possibly another dimension.
Every issue Morgan would jump to conclusions, try to save an innocent from a monster - and usually discovers that it's the innocent who's the monster and vice versa.
He was always a flawed hero and in the most recent iteration of the series Grell is trying to reconcile the responsibilities of leadership that the title Warlord implies with the rip-roaring adventure readers expect from a sword and sorcery comic. The jury is still out if the series can sustain such pressures.
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