Krash Bastards original graphic novel
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Axel #13
Letters: Ryan Young & Rob Osbourne
Publisher: Image Comics/Man of Action Studios
Price: $9.99 US
This thoroughly American book takes a decided Japanese approach to comics storytelling, as this book reads back to front as genuine manga (as well as many Western editions of manga books) do. That’s a strong cue of what to expect from this action-oriented property. I’ve reached a point in my comics reading habits that that reverse approach to reading doesn’t faze me anymore. Unfortunately, this book is so focused on a certain cool factor that I felt completely alienated. Writer Joe Casey has crafted a sci-fi/action concept around the notions of celebrity and youth culture. It’s possible Casey means this as a satirical look at what passes for entertainment for youth today, but my sense is that it’s actually targeted at that demographic, explaining why I felt left out in the cold. Honestly, as I read through the pages of this book about a space-faring gang of sword-wielding good guys, I felt old — ancient, really. While the story and art didn’t click for me (and I admit that perhaps it wasn’t meant to in my case), what I found really frustrating about the book is that almost half of it is filled with “additional material,” such as sketches and the original script. While I enjoy little extras like that, there’s just so much of it to be found in this book that it looks like the creators were just trying to make the book thick enough to appeal to traditional manga fans.
No one in the galaxy is more revered and beloved by the masses than the gang of adventurers and do-gooders known as the Krash Bastards, and of their number, the most famous and adored is the group’s leader, the charismatic, agile and deadly Tran Lo Zip. As the team’s most experienced and wise member heads out to retrieve Tran’s brother from school, the top Krash Bastard and his lover Xia Xu Bang take on a giant lizard in the middle of Okinopolis, armed only with their “shredders” (swords) and equally sharp wits. Meanwhile, little do they know that someone as feared and reviled as the Krash Bastards are loved is approaching the planet, and he brings with him certain death. After all, the villain’s name is Kau Death; what else could he bring with him?
Axel #13’s artwork for this book reminds me of a bizarre amalgam of the styles of such artists as Moebius, Rob Liefeld and manga creators with a more elongated approach. The black-and-white art offers some occasionally impressive visuals, notably when it comes to the immense forms of a rampaging monster or city-sized spaceships. But for the most part, there’s an awkward quality to the artist’s storytelling. He doesn’t seem as comfortable depicting the characters from angles other than solid closeups of their faces. The background detail is often lacking, and Axel doesn’t do nearly enough to distinguish Tran apart from his younger brother, Ren Kid Zip. The characters are also rendered inconsistently from scene to scene; just compare Tran’s look in his profile page in the opening pages of the book and how he appears later in the story. For a while, Axel’s emphasis of certain attributes of the female characters’ isn’t too intrusive. But later in the book, when one comes to a teammate’s rescue, the reader’s attention is focused squarely on her tits and not her actions. There’s definitely energy in the artwork, though, and the artist conveys the action pretty well.
Perhaps the biggest problem with the book is that there’s nothing to these characters. They seem defined by their fame, coolness and violent skills. Aside from the orgasmic joy that murder seems to bring to the heroes, there’s little emotion to be found in the story. The eldest of the warrior heroes, Sun Tsai, is a painful cliche. His softer side and wisdom cast him in the role of the kindly, peaceful mentor in the most stereotypical fashion.
Of all the characters, it’s the villain — Death Kau — who’s the most interesting. Whereas Tran’s dialogue comes off as grating bravado most of the time, his boasts strike a stronger chord. His motives, aside from conquest, aren’t entirely clear, but there seems to be something more to his brutal journey. His disciples are laughable, though. Perhaps they’re meant to be, but the scenes in which they play a role put me in mind of early issues of The Tick, in which incompetent ninjas, while providing plenty of humor, fail to impact the plot in any way.
Celery is an odd food item in that the act of chewing and digesting it actually burns more calories than one gets from the stalk itself. One has to expend more energy to eat celery than it’s worth. Krash Bastards is a comic-book equivalent of celery. Ultimately, there’s just not enough in the book to make the reading experience worthwhile. 3/10