Column: Global Ghoul: Dogs: Prelude #0

By Dale Carothers

Miwa, Shirow. Dogs: Prelude #0. Viz, 2009. $12.99. ISBN: 978-1-4215-2702-4.

Dogs: Prelude loosely weaves four stories together. Characters from different stories make cameos – or get fully involved in the shenanigans – giving the volume a modicum of cohesion, but it never really gels for me.

Miwa’s art looks good when you first pick the book up. Characters are universally lanky, and their limbs describe graceful arcs and angles across the page. Miwa is fond of deforming his characters’ anatomy in the service of action, posture and dramatic intent. He uses one basic facial design – let’s call it the convex shovel-face – but he gives us enough minor variations on the concept that we can tell the difference between characters. He does, like most other mangaka, rely pretty heavily on hairstyles and clothing to differentiate between characters.

But when you start reading, Miwa’s art feels empty. It feels a bit like a first draft – like he was just trying to get the flow of the story down before he started. And he has Rob Liefeld’s aversion to backgrounds. This gets better in the later story arcs, but, in the first arc, backgrounds are spare.

Miwa’s stories are similarly spare. Sure, there’s lots of running around and shooting – or, in the case of the story, “Blade Maiden,” slashing – but it’s hard to care about who these people are and why they are all shooting at each other. Maybe that’s all Miwa wanted. Frenetic action at the fore, bullets and blood flying, and an almost fetishistic attention to detail when drawing guns. But not so much when it comes to character. Motivations are clear, but they don’t dip all that deep beneath the surface. These stories snorkel, while I prefer stories that scuba dive.

Mihai, the protagonist of the first story, “Weepy Old Killer,” comes back to town ten years after his girlfriend was murdered. He’s back because he’s heard that the mob boss that he used to work for is dead, recently gunned down by his own son, Ian – the very man who killed Mihai’s late girlfriend. Ian is taking over his father’s operation, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Mihai and Ian have a final confrontation at the grave of Mihai’s dead girlfriend, but things don’t go according to plan, for anyone. There’s some depth to the relationship between Mihai and Ian, but it’s all over too quickly. There’s also a confusing moment at the end of “Weepy Old Killer.” A little boy, the same boy who accidentally bumps into Mihai on the street at the beginning of the story, shanks Mihai, leaving him bloody and confused about the few cryptic words the boy says before running off. When Mihai shows up later in “Gun Smoker” there are a few throw-away lines about how he’s all healed up and that’s it. It’s never mentioned again in the story. Miwa may pick up on this little plot point in later volumes, but I don’t care enough to find out.

“Gun Smoker” is a fast-paced chase followed by a gunfight in a bar. Badou, information broker, sees a crime boss in a compromising position, snaps a photo, and then gets chased by some goons. Badou is a wisecracking dumbass, but he’s handy with a gun. He’s most dangerous when he’s out of cigarettes, becoming a nic-fit berserker who rains bullets on his enemies. Lots of shooting, not much else.

Naoto, the protagonist of “Blade Maiden,” is nearly killed, herself, when an unknown sword-wielding assassin cuts down her parents. The X-shaped cut goes through both her mother and her father, and leaves an X-shaped scar on Naoto’s chest. She’s nursed back to health by a man who wanders by soon after her parents are murdered. He teaches her sword and knife fighting, making her the Blade Maiden that she becomes. Lots of sword fighting ensues when another student shows up and tried to take advantage of Naoto’s weakness. Miwa’s swordfights are awesome, but I wish I cared more about who wins.

All of the speculative elements of the world show up in “Stray Dogs Howling in the Dark.” Heine, a genetically enhanced gunfighter, saves a girl who is trying to get away from her pimp. During the fight, she loses her cloak and her tiny angel wings are revealed. Heine takes her back to his apartment and their “relationship” develops. It’s not much more than the classic “damaged damsel in distress” and “bad-boy hero,” much like the relationship between Marv, Goldie and Wendy from Sin City – only, with less going on. Unfortunately, Angel Girl’s pimps are connected to the mob and soon, goons show up at Heine’s door. They fill him with bullets and take her away, but Heine’s genetic mutation saves him. With the help of nic-fit berserker Badou, Heine storms the building where Angel Girl was taken. More super-keen gun fighting and more perfect drawings of guns. This story was a bit more fun, and it felt as if Miwa had grown as a storyteller by the end of the volume, but not enough to make me rush out and buy the next one.

Dogs: Prelude only has a 3 out of 10 chance of waking Cthulhu from his eternal slumber.