If you read the fourth Gunsmith Cats anthology and complain that it’s “unrealistic” or “improbable”, my response to you will be to yank the book out of your hands, smack your pinkies with it (it’s heavy, be warned), and give that volume along with its three predecessors to someone more deserving of its charms. Grousing about the laws of physics being broken in a Gunsmith Cats book is like complaining that McDonald’s French fries are too salty.
Actually, that’s one of the charming things aboutGunsmith Cats — Kenichi Sonoda spends such effort grounding the story in a nuts-and-bolts reality of cars, guns and machines that when he breaks the rules, it’s more like he’s just expanding on them. And yes, at the heart of it, a series this fundamentally over-the-top deserves to be read with a crooked smile on your face.
This fourth volume is the last of Gunsmith Cats’s omnibus reprints, although there’s a whole new series of adventures in the Gunsmith Cats Burstseries which I’ve also been following. A great many of the outstanding plotlines that were set up in the previous three collections are wrapped up — well, not so much brought to a total close as resolved completely enough that we feel like we can move on without missing anything. As with all three previous collections, the sheer amount of material sandwiched between these covers is hugely satisfying — there’s more plot and action in this one volume than there are in several of most any other serious you could care to name. It’s hard to imagine a better deal for $17.
Right off the bat we’re treated to the reappearance of a nemesis from previous volumes: “Goldie”, a tough-as-concrete female gangster who’s been responsible for flooding the streets with a virulent new strain of drug named “kerasine”. Rally got whacked with a dose of this stuff before and knows firsthand how evil it is — it’s not just for kicks, but for turning people into willing slaves. Goldie’s put together a veritable harem of submissives and gun molls, male and female alike, and has used them to muscle her way to the top of the mob-controlled drug pyramid in Chicago. Human life is dirt cheap to her, and she never turns away an opportunity to take someone of independent mien — like, say, Rally — and break her.
Rally and Minnie May (along with their cohorts, Becky the data-digger and Misty the sneak-thief) soon find themselves in way over their heads, especially when part of Goldie’s plan involves relying on professional driver-for-hire Bean. Bean’s like the Switzerland of this crew: he’s theoretically neutral, but Rally always manages to find a way to sway him to her side … and sometimes she doesn’t need to tug all that hard to make it happen, either.
Bit by bit a plan comes together. The first part involves Minnie May sneaking into Goldie’s harem of drugged-up girls and helping steal them away — which almost immediately goes all pear-shaped when Rally’s cornered by “Mr. V”, one of Goldie’s zombified guards. “V” stands for Vincent … as in, you guessed it, Rally’s long-lost father. The sight of him following Goldie’s orders, and enthusiastically to boot, rattles Rally down to the core — and now she has more reasons than ever to round up Goldie and get her put away for good.
The second half of the plan involves storming one of Goldie’s drug deals while it’s still in progress, something that everyone concerned knows is insanely dangerous — not just because Rally’s dad is stuck on the wrong side of the fight, but because Goldie may have anticipated most every move they could make and turned the whole operation into a deathtrap specifically for them. This leads, as you can well imagine, to a showdown between father and daughter, with Goldie pulling both of their strings at once. The climax of this segment is interleaved between two key flashbacks, one from Rally’s father’s POV and another from Goldie’s, where key turning points from both of their histories are finally laid bare. What’s unexpected and fascinating about these segments is how they mirror each other psychologically: both Goldie and Rally’s dad sacrificed a great deal in the pursuit of their particular causes, up to and including a part of their own souls.
The second major story arc for the volume centers around Misty. Clever as she is with her lockpicks, she isn’t always too wise — and so when she boosts Bean Bandit’s armor-plated car, she ends up in not just one but several steaming heaps of trouble. Bean had some cargo in tow for a counterfeiter, and now finds himself pinched hard between his clients (who are rapidly becoming his former clients) and Rally’s anger. “Stuff enough bucks in his hand,” as the client puts it, “and Bean is anyone’s bitch.” With Misty as a hostage, they plan to make Rally bend as well, but they don’t quite count on everyone being cleverer (or meaner, or tougher) than they are. Misty spends a good deal of time being naked and shoved around at gunpoint, and amazingly it’s played less for titillation than the fact that “naked” also means “vulnerable” — although Misty still finds ways to fight back despite that.
The back of the book contains a whopping bonus: the whole of Sonoda’s abortiveRiding Bean comic, which ended after four episodes due to the collapse of the magazine that ran it. The story’s basically a Bean solo adventure which ends with a reference to Rally & Co., presumably as a lead-in to what eventually turned intoGunsmith Cats (with Bean only one of a cast of many). It’s a fun ride — literally and figuratively — although it ends right when things are getting really interesting, so it’s best read for flavor as a complement to the main storyline. (Also included is an absolutely hilarious manga depiction of Sonoda’s first trip to the U.S., including notes about the bad airplane food and all kinds of other gleeful bits of trivia.)
Now that I’ve read essentially the whole back catalog of the Cats franchise, I’ve noticed several things about it that make it consistently appealing. For one, the bad guys are at least as smart (or, failing that, sneaky) as the good guys. Goldie makes for a devastatingly good villain in that respect: we watch her at work, and we know that Rally and her friends are going to be forced to play way over their heads to match her game.
Another thing I like is how the loyalties of a lot of the people, even many of the “good” guys, are not always set in stone. Becky Farrah, Rally’s “intelligence ops” person, doesn’t work for free — she could make just as much money, if not more, selling the same information to someone else. One of the running jokes of the series is how Rally constantly overextends her credit with Becky, with Bean (especially Bean), and with just about everyone else she has a working relationship with.
If you were along for the first three omnibus volumes, then the fourth is going to be pretty much a done deal: it’s everything you’ve come to expect from this series and more, including the bonuses. Now let me crack the shrinkwrap on the new volume of Burst, too …