Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wolfsmund vol. 3

"The bailiff sweats.The revolution is on." That's the description of this volume's events from the back cover.Short, sweet, and to the point, they gave me hope that the series would finally address its biggest issues and start living up to its potential.Though that hasn't quite happened yet, vol. 3 takes some large strides towards becoming a title I can start looking forward to.In that I actually want to see what happens next, not because I'm waiting to see it go completely off the rails. Now, before the revolution can get started, someone has to spread the word.That someone is young Walter Tell, last seen in vol. 1 when he managed to survive the treacherous mountain border crossing that claimed his father's life.While he will be making that trek again solo from the other side of the pass, the first story introduces us to the skilled warrior siblings Albert and Barbara as they attack Wolfsmund to provide a diversion and settle an old score. I liked the fact that this opening story provided another twist on the title's formula of bad things happening to people who pass through Wolfsmund.Mind you, bad things happen to Albert and Barbara as well, but they make a genuine fight of it and generate some real suspense as things go on.Even if things end just as you'd expect, we do get a nice bit at the end when Bailiff Wolfram finds something out too late. The stories in the two chapters that follow showcase not only Walter's efforts to cross the mountains alone, but the lengths the resistance will go towards maintaining their element of surprise.We get to see this firsthand when Wolfram starts torturing Walter's mother and younger brother and then brings them out for a public execution.You won't find any surprises there as the bailiff's cruelty and the dedication of the resistance have been pretty well documented up through this point.Walter's border crossing does have some impressive action scenes as he has to demonstrate some split-second ingenuity once the guards pick up his trail.The impact of these scenes, however, is at odds with the grounded aesthetic the book has demonstrated since they're more of the "action movie" variety. Yet all of the book's issues up to this point start to annoy a little less when we get to the final story in the book and its premise is blown wide open.The rebellion is on and the resistance on both sides of Wolfsmund makes its move.Both sides have very different ways of dealing with the opposition as the crew in the south have access to more "exotic" strategies, but the people who have been trapped in the cantons have to be a bit more resourceful.This is where Walter, another resistance fighter named Hilde and two of her cowhand friends come in as they have to kill by inches to make this plan work. I won't lie.Seeing the chapter start off with the resistance in the south make its move was a genuinely thrilling moment and the highlight of the series thus far.It was also a sign that mangaka Mitsuhisa Kuji (who is actually a woman, and to whom I apologize for referring to as a man in the past) really does have a plan for this series and isn't going to try and drag things out.The scene is a real game-changer and made me genuinely excited to see what happens next. While there's some fantastically bloody action scenes that follow, the overall effect is blunted somewhat by Hilde's character.She's introduced to us as Walter mourns the death of the madam from the previous volumes and comes off as a flighty and buxom presence with real fighting skills.It honestly feels that Kuji's editor told her that she needed to put in a badass fighting babe to keep the fanboys interested and this is how she obliged them.Then her bloodthirsty side comes out andshe still doesn't come off as all that interesting.Compared to Revy from "Black Lagoon," Hilde comes off as a one-dimensional piece of fanboy bait who lacks any real depth even after we find out her backstory and nickname.There's no doubt she's a real asset to the resistance, but that's about all the appeal she has to me. Speaking of the resistance and "depth," my only real concern now is that Kuji is going to give us an ending where her reach exceeds her grasp.Namely, that everything is going to fail and the rebellion will be brutally crushed while Wolfsmund endures.Worse still would be the fact that Wolfram saw this all coming and everyone's actions are slowly feeding into his master plan because the plot dictates it.If we get that kind of ending, then being tossed by myself into the recycling bin will be the best fate that "Wolfsmund" can hope for. That's because with these three volumes so far, Kuji hasn't really given us a series with the moral ambiguity or depth of character to sustain such an anticlimax.To her credit, this is working as a simple good guys vs. bad guys yarn and these kinds of stories are most effective when good triumphs over evil in the end after the appropriate amount of struggle.The majority of Kenichi Sonoda's "Gunsmith Cats" is a great example of how that kind of storytelling can work as well as how awful it can be when it tries to achieve a level of depth it hasn't earned. Part of me fears that's how this title is going to end.With Wolfram secure in his post and continuing to smile gleefully at the travellers under his mercy.That would be a terrible ending and put this on the shortlist for my "Worst of 2014" pick.Or maybe not since the worst stuff I read is never really what I expect. This is all potential and speculation, though.The reality of things is that "Wolfsmund" now has real momentum and I want to see where it carries me.Whether or not that'll be anywhere good only adds to the excitement at this moment. Jason Glick
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