I haven't reviewed a graphic novel from First Second since May last year and I've missed the creatures. I leapt at the chance to review this sort of material for the Nameless Zine because the first titles available were compilations of old '2000 AD' material that brought back glorious memories of my youth and filled in some gaps. However, I soon fell in love with the books published by First Second, which are as varied as they are interesting.
This one is unfortunately the second in a series of four, because I haven't read the first one, but it's not difficult to pick up what's going on. The demon of the title is Jimmy Yee, who has an odd talent: he can't die. Now, he's not immortal in the usual sense, someone who can't be hurt or killed. He's immortal in the sense that when the mortal body he inhabits is destroyed, by any means, he jumps automatically into the nearest live body around and takes over. Far from being something he avoids, he uses this talent eagerly and frequently to further his goals. You will never again read a book that contains so much suicide.
Oddly, the idea wasn't new to me. A year ago I reviewed a collection of short stories, 'Press Start to Play' (review here), that explored a video game theme. The contribution of Hiroshi Sakurazaka, 'Respawn', follows this concept to a tee and it's hardly his first dabble with it, as his most famous work is 'All You Need is Kill', a novel that was adapted to film as 'Edge of Tomorrow' with Tom Cruise.
The creator here is Jason Shiga, who is a better writer than he is an artist. The artwork is primitive stuff that feels more like a self-published webcomic, though there is a certain charm to the style. His real skill is in storytelling and there are some sections here that are intricate and fantastic. The central idea really does lead itself to that sort of thing, but few authors would have found themselves in the territory to which Shiga navigate through a combination of storytelling and sheer balls.
Our hero is a 44 year old actuary who has become a demon and spends the entire book killing people; he is far from the typical lead but we still feel for him and his quest. His wife and daughter have been killed in a car accident, caused by a drunk driver, Heron Marsh, his 'third DUI in as many years'. Even though Marsh is crippled in the accident, both mentally and physically, and sentenced to thirty years, Jimmy feels driven to seek revenge and the plan he takes to get into the Greenlake Correctional Facility to achieve that is the spark for our story. You see, the first step goes horribly wrong and Jimmy hangs himself rather than face life inside. And promptly comes back in another body.
What comes next is the real magic. Jimmy uses the people around him as stepping stones to manoeuvre himself closer to Heron Marsh. He commits suicide over and over again, each time transferring into the next, very deliberately chosen, body which has an edge that the previous one didn't. The catch, because there's always a catch, is that someone has noticed this skill and Mr. Hunter of the O.S.S., a secret U.S. government department, is now seeking to capture Jimmy for reasons of his own.
The middle half of the book is mostly comprised of a battle of wits between Hunter and Jimmy that plays out amidst utter carnage. Just imagine what you could do if you knew, with 100% certainty, what happens when you die and that that could be a good thing. I'm tempted to go back and count how many times Jimmy commits suicide here, but it's a lot. Now imagine how that would go if someone else knew that too and uses it as a weapon against you. The moment Hunter catches Jimmy is morally wrong in so many ways but it's utterly right in context. Shiga has a truly twisted mind and I respect that.
This is not a long graphic novel and it doesn't tell a complete story, partly because it's book two and we arrive at the beginning of Chapter 6 but partly because it has a much wider scope than my synopsis might suggest and I have no idea where the final two volumes will take us. I'd certainly recommend that this be read in conjunction with the other books in the series, but the story and concept are easy to pick up on here. In fact, you have the entire grounding in this review, so you can leap straight into volume two as a standalone book if you wish. The only downside is that it's an inherent spoiler for volume one.
The worst thing about the book is the artwork. I don't ever want to suggest that I can draw better than artist X, because I can't. For instance, I know I can't draw stick figures as well as Randall Munroe, and they're frickin' stick figures. Jason Shiga's artwork is more sophisticated than that, but it feels notably amateur and I truly wish he'd have hired someone to illustrate this story for him.
The best thing about the book is the writing, which is done with very black humour indeed and a great sense of imagination. That's right up my alley, one of my favourite combinations. There are a slew of moments that I'd love to spoil but won't, because you should experience their twisted magic yourself.
Doug Paszkiewicz, who writes the even more twisted comic book, 'Arsenic Lullaby', has an intriguing sales pitch to those who approach his booth at events. He hands a carefully selected page to them and waits to see if they laugh. If they do, he invites them closer because he knows they're going to love his work. If they don't, he pushes them away because they're going to see him somewhere on a scale from mentally abhorrent to Satan himself.
I'll adopt a similar approach here. If you're enticed by the central concept that our hero (how anti- can a hero get?) can use mass suicide as a weapon to achieve his personal goals, then this book is likely to be for you. If you're wondering what's wrong with Shiga's brain, then you need to steer clear. ~~ Hal C F Astell