Review by Michael May
Tiki Joe Mysteries: The High-Stakes Patsy
Written and Illustrated by Mark Murphy
Let’s get the Hawaiian Dick comparison out of the way first. You hear “tiki” and “mystery” in the title and of course you’re going to make the connection, but Tiki Joe Mysteries is nothing like B. Clay Moore’s “tropical noir” series (except that both are awesome). Hawaiian Dick is Robert Mitchum in a South Pacific setting. Tiki Joe Mysteries is set in Las Vegas. It’s Frank, Deano, Sammy, Joey, and Peter. The tone is completely different. It’s like comparing Ocean’s Eleven to Macao.
“The High Stakes Patsy” is just one of two stories in the book, but it’s the longer one. The first story, “The Pay Off,” only takes up a quarter of the book and serves as a sort of prologue to “Patsy.” “The Pay Off” sets up the Tiki Joe concept by showing how a protection racket tries to strong-arm nightclub owner Tiki Joe. Unfortunately for the mobsters, Joe is a former marine and his current band at the club all served under him in WWII. Joe does report the matter to the police, but since the police are too busy chasing major hoods, it’s up to Joe and the boys to take care of things themselves. Donning tiki masks for anonymity, the group of them uses its military training to push back on the racketeers. In “Patsy,” they put on the masks again to catch a ring of jewel thieves.
The mysteries in Tiki Joe Mysteries aren’t the whodunit kind. “Pay Off” is mostly a crime story and “Patsy” is more like the Columbo model where the audience knows who the culprits are and the mystery is how the hero is going to deal with them. Joe’s no cop and he doesn’t even really take clients, at least not in this volume. He works for himself and his friends, so he doesn’t have to play by the same rules as the police. In fact, there’s a scene towards the end where the police – no dummies themselves – have figured out that Joe and his pals are the tiki gang, but can’t prove it. The commissioner says as much right before he tells Joe to “get a badge or a shingle and do it within the law so I can keep tabs on you.”
That sets up an interesting relationship between Joe and the cops that I’d like to see explored in future volumes. The commissioner isn’t against having a little help, he just wants it controlled. How’s Joe going to react to that? I honestly don’t know. It could go a couple of ways and still keep in character with what we know about Joe so far.
The book is gripping and atmospheric. Though Joe figures out quickly who his bad guys are, there’s a lot of fast thinking, faster driving, punching, and shooting that goes into defeating them. And the thrills are only half of what makes the book so cool. Murphy also knows how to draw a tiki lounge you’d want to hang out in and the sheer style of his art makes you wistful for swankier times.
The only thing that bugged me was that Murphy sometimes uses two words of dialogue when a contraction would feel more natural, but that was pretty easy to read past. Other than that, it’s a classy start to an exciting new series.
– Michael May
Reviews by Chris Mautner
Kasumi Vol. 1
Story by Surt Lim
Art by Hirofumi Sugimoto
With a Japanese artist and an American-based writer, Kasumi holds the promise of being something unique — a truly global manga that could, ostensibly combine the strnghts of both Western and Eastern comics to create something if not original, at least a cut above the ordinary.
Of course, that’s not the case at all with Kasumi. It’s a standard, by the numbers shojo manga about a high school girl who through some inexplicable supernatural event gains the ability to become invisible whenever she holds her breath. All the usual archtypes and cliches are in place here, from the smolderingly silent potential love interest to the icky sexual pandering on display (in a sequence where she accidently ends up in a transparent bathing suit) to the way the villains treat the protagonist that would never be allowed for five seconds in any real, actual high school in Japan or America.
The heroine shows admirable pluck and fortitude, and Sugimoto’s art is decent (though I tire of the noseless characters) but I’ve seen this kind of book before too many times to fall for its charms now.
Haridama Magic Cram School
by Atsushi Suzumi
Continuing that theme, here’s another manga that falls too comfortably in the traditional formula and doesn’t offer enough je ne sais quoi to stand out from the crowd.
Haridama is about a pair of friends who are learning to become sorcerers. They’re considered underdogs because they’re “Obsidians” which means they have to use swords to help them cast spells, I think. I was never quite clear on the ground rules of Suzumi’s world, and I got the feeling Suzumi wasn’t either.
Anyway, through pluck and luck it turns out that these crazy kids might really have hidden talents for magic after all, and I bet you totally didn’t see that coming. Seriously, there’s absolutely nothing here that has not been done a million times before, only better. The worst thing I could say about Haridama? I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was about when sitting down to write this review and had to go back and reread it just to kickstart my brain.
Toto! The Wonderful Adventure
by Yuo Osada
See, now this is how you do it. Osada’s story of a boy on a life-changing quest for adventure follows just about every shonen cliche known to man. The goofy but plucky hero with lofty goals. The female interest who doesn’t take any nonsense. The humorous band of gangsters that turn out to be decent fellows. The magical macguffin that everybody is after (in this case a small dog).
So no, Toto doesn’t tread any new ground. And yet I loved it, mainly because Osada presents his tale with so much humor and goodwill. His characters are rough and rubbery and utterly charming. And Kakashi’s quest is — merely to travel to distant lands — is winsome enough to make you root for the kid. Plus the Wizard of Oz references (yes, the dog’s name is Toto) are kept to a minimum (truthfully, Miyazaki is more of an influence here than Baum).
I didn’t like Toto as much as I did Fairy Tail, Del Rey’s other recent shonen manga — it doesn’t hit that same level of inspired lunacy that Hiro Mashima’s fantasy series does — but it’s smart and silly and doesn’t take itself too seriously. That’s more than I can say for some of the manga I’ve been reading recently.