Dogs: Prelude is exactly that — a teaser for the main attraction to come, which explains why it’s numbered “0” and is entertaining without actually adding up to much. I suspect that’s not entirely the book’s fault, though: if you walk in knowing this is going to be all setup and introduction, it’s pretty enjoyable. That said, it’s still only a stage-setter: the real opening act comes in August, when volume 1 proper of Dogs hits the shelves. I have to be fair, though, and review what I’ve read and not what I hope to read.
Set in some unnamed European city, Dogs 0 compiles four stories about the intersecting lives of a whole slew of low- and no-lifes: gun- and knife-toting assassins, camera-snapping “information dealers”, doe-eyed mutant maidens in distress, and a couple of warring Cosa Nostra gangs for good measure. It’s got a fair dose of the absurdly over-the-top action spectacle of Black Lagoon (another fine Viz presentation), plus some of the noir grit and tough-guy moralism of Frank Miller’s Sin City. I wouldn’t yet put it up there with the former, let alone the latter, but my curiosity’s been piqued.
Each segment lets a different character come to the fore and strut their stuff. For openers we have Mihai, the “Weepy Old Killer” — a big bearded slab of hired murder muscle, now gone semi-straight but with enough demons in the closet that it’s hard to keep the door shut. He raised the son of a local don as his own, only to have the brat gun down his own father and take the throne from him, and now it looks like he may be just as willing to take out his foster dad, too. Mihai’s the closest we’re probably going to get to anything like a Good Guy in this series, and it needs one badly. With no one to identify with, it’ll be all posturing and noise.
Then there’s Badou, the information dealer, with his eyepatch and his endless string of chain-smoked cigarettes and his completely bug-nuts temper: stick a gun in his hand and he’ll clear the street. That said, he’d rather not use bullets to get what he wants, but if there’s no other way to do it, duck. His story is the funniest and most unhinged of the bunch, starting with him accidentally getting photos of a local Mafia don engaged in some naughty spank-play and ending with him going Chow Yun-Fat with twin Uzis on the don’s boys (and having to patch all the bullet holes by hand when he’s done).
No story like this would be complete without at least one Girl With Gun story. In this case, it’s a Girl With Sword, Sword Scars, Damaged Memory And Burning Thirst For Revenge story. Little Naoto was taken in by the man who allegedly killed her parents in cold blood, who taught her how to use knives. The graduating exam for this particular course: kill the teacher. Unfortunately, another of his cohorts beats her to it, and unleashes a lot more from inside her than he bargained for. This chapter’s where more of the Sin City vibe comes to the surface — there are no real good guys (or gals) in it anywhere, and all the options available to them seem equally hopeless.
Part The Fourth gives us Heine, who with his spiky white hair and his lanky body comes off as a half-brother to Allen from D.Gray Man (with redhead Badou being his Lavi, I guess?). A trigger-happy smartass with a penchant for damsels in distress, he also has a peculiar device bolted to the back of his neck that keeps him from dying. Gun him down and he comes right back at you, but he’s paid a hefty price for such power, and someday he’ll get revenge on those who “immortalized” him. In the meantime, he sticks his neck (and his guns) out for the sake of a cute young thing with angel’s wings — added courtesy of the same genetic modification process that was probably responsible for him, too.
Art: Whenever Viz brings out something in a larger-format edition (5.75 × 8.25 in.), it’s usually because what’s on the page deserves that much more paper to be shown off. In the case of Dogs, it’s not clear there was as much to show off: the art’s actually rather spare, with only every third page or so really sporting the kind of detail and intricacy of design that I’d expect from a seinen title. But the good parts are very good indeed, rich with the kind of contrasts between all-black regions and fine lines that I’ve seen a lot of in, of all places, Naruto. I’m hoping the actual series sports more of that kind of look than the gag-manga approach that comes a good deal of the rest of the time. It clashes badly with the darker undercurrents in the story, and just plain doesn’t look good to begin with.
Translation: The exact approach that Viz takes to any given title with their translations is often up for grabs. Sometimes they leave everything alone except for the dialogue; sometimes they change everything except for the fact that it’s printed right-to-left. With Dogs, they’ve taken the latter approach: everything from FX to signage to dialogue and in-the-margin incidentals has been translated. It’s not a bad idea this time around, though, since the series itself isn’t Nipponocentric (i.e., it doesn’t take place in Japan anyway) and the translation is clean enough that only the most fanatically purist readers will take exception.
The Bottom Line: By itself, Dogs 0 is only okay — a good but not great entry in the same stylized-violence-and-tough-world- sweepstakes as Black Lagoon. Still, I know full well that it’s a lead-in for the real thing, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to come back to see how the main event shapes up.