At the tender age of ten, Johannes Krauser II picked up a boningknife and slashed the throats of his hapless parents, leaving theirlifeless corpses bathing in pools of gore. Prison’s puny walls couldn’thold a specimen of pure evil like him forever, though … and whilelocked in his cell, he realized the only music that could keep him fromkilling again was the violent sound of DEATH METAL. And so after hisrelease, he formed blood bonds with two other madmen (Jagi, bass;Camus, drums) and created the most terrifying onslaught of evil-coredeath metal ever to sweep the face of this undeserving earth … DETROITMETAL CITY!
Except that his real name is SoichiNegishi and he’s really a demure young man who loves his mom, folksypop ballads, and a nice comfy sweater (not in that order). But put himon stage and wrap him in a costume that Gene Simmons would find gaudy,and lo’n’behold he turns into an earsplitting underground devil ofblood-sucking sonic blasphemy. “I am a terrorist from hell!” he bellows in Detroit Metal City’sopening panels. (The rest of the lyrics to that song sound like whatyou’d hear from the mother-rapers and father-stabbers [and father-rapers, and mother-stabbers] that shared the lockup with Arlo Guthrie when he got picked up for littering and creating a public nuisance.)
And so we’re off and running in one of the most hotly-anticipatedand also utterly whacked-out manga titles for 2009. Half of it istender love comedy and that ever-touching yearning for your dreams, andthe other half is biting the heads off bats and songs about rape.(Sample DMC lyrics: “RAPE RAPE RAPE RAPE / RAPE THAT GIRL!” I’m notleaving out much here.) It’s the sort of humor that Mel Brooks wastalking about when a woman called The Producers “vulgar”, and he replied, “Lady, it rises below vulgarity.” I’m tempted to compare DMC to filth-fests like Shin-chan or Ebichu Minds the House (which, if you haven’t seen, makes Shin-chanlook like a Miyazaki movie), but the foul language and antisocialmayhem are the punch line, not the whole reason for the comic’sexistence. That might even make it all the funnier, depending on yourtastes.
One definition of comedy goes something like this: it’swhen people attempt to apply logic to situations where it doesn’tbelong. That’s all too true of Soichi, now stuck with the label ofGrindcore God. It’s not that he’s no good at it; in fact, Soichi isentirely too good at it. He’d rather go on dates and makefriends in social circles he isn’t horribly embarrassed to be caughtdead in. But get him riled up—or, better yet, put a few drinks intohim—and he shreds the competition, both literally and figuratively. Hemay regret the whole escapade in the morning, but tell that to hisscreaming fans who don’t even recognize him on the street when he’s outof his makeup. I’m pretty sure nobody recognized Klaus Nomi or GWARwhen they were just walking around, either.
“All I want to dois play something my mom can listen to,” Soichi frets. Trouble is, he’sa virtual hostage to the band and its crazed manager, a booze-swillingwoman for whom the success of a song is proportional to the dampness ofher underwear after hearing it. She’s prepared to do anything—up to,including and beyond ruining Soichi’s life—to get DMC signed to a majorlabel. When she gets bored with Soichi’s usual tongue-waggling andguitar-chewing, she throws a genuine masochist on stage for him to beaton. She sets DMC up on a show where they are contrasted with a sweet,folksy, They Might Be Giants-esque threesome that Soichi secretlyadores; DMC’s mission is to trash the band in mid-set, a free-for-allthat includes people’s face pushed into camera lenses and a tambourine being raped. Not making this up.
Noneof this would work if it wasn’t funny. It is, riotously so, and Iconfess I laughed at nearly every other page. Most of the big laughsare obvious, but hilarious anyway, as when Soichi “accidentally”molests a female cop (Eyewitness: “His cape was blocking the view, butI’m fairly sure there was penetration!”). Other gags are actuallyfairly sly, as when Soichi chows down on fake bats and stage blood fora music video while his mother’s words ring in his ears: You eating enough, hon? Ialso smiled at an episode where Soichi gets handed the crown to thedeath metal throne by the reigning king of musical evil, “Jack IllDark”. Bad taste abounds: the latter has a song entitled “F—inghamPalace”, comes within inches of sodomizing Soichi backstage (when thelatter is out of costume and looking appropriately meek), and the twoof them ultimately go neck-and-neck in a competition to spit out themost F-bombs on a single lungful of air. “I was just counting out loudthe number of chicks I’ve [banged],” Soichi sneers after piledrivinghis predecessor into submission.
The funniest thing about DMC is how the band’s antics, lyrics, imagery and chaos are scarcely that far removed from the real thing. This Is Spinal Tap gaveus the first (and probably best) dose of this kind of satire, a fakedocumentary about an awesomely wretched heavy metal outfit—but who werearguably no worse, and in many cases a sight better, than thevery bands they were lampooning. Small wonder Messrs. McKean, Guest andShearer kept up the act and took the “band” on “tour” for a “reunion”.A decade or so later Rusty Cundieff did the same thing with rap musicin Fear of a Black Hat; again, the fake band’s music was comparable to the real thing, and a good deal (intentionally) funnier to boot. Now comes DMC—and fromJapan, where just about every heavy-metal act of repute goes to dieafter wearing out their welcome overseas. One wonders where DMC will gowhen their star burns out. Seattle?
Art: Oddly enough, Kiminori Wakasugi’s art reminds me a bit of the designs Mike Judge came up with for Beavis and Butt-head and King of the Hill—abit stiff and stagy, but also direct and appealing. Come to think ofit, better art might have simply been a distraction since the realappeal of this story is in the humor and the situations.
Translation: Flip to the back and the translation credit reads “Annus Itchii”, which I would bet my last paycheck is none other than the Anne Ishiiwho used to grace Vertical, Inc.’s hallowed corridors. She’s sincemoved on, but continues to translate on a freelance basis, and sheclearly dove into the profanity-splattered pages of DMC withboth sleeves up. I don’t have access to the untranslated original(something I’ve been trying to get into the habit of since I startedwith Black Lagoon), but by all accounts it was every bit as gleefully nasty as the English end result.
Anotherkey decision, which I’m not upset about, was to translate as much aspossible directly on the page. It makes sense here: DMC’s oneof those titles with a higher-than-average chance of crossing over tothe non-manga readers out there. To that end, everything from signageto product packaging has been re-rendered in English, albeit cleanlyand elegantly. They did keep a few things that are crucial,like the character for “KILL” (殺) on Soichi/Krauser’sforehead—especially since he changes it to the English equivalent laterin the first volume, which in itself garners big laughs.
Viz diddraw the line at optically flopping the pages, though; this one readsright to left. Gripe about it, however, and Krauser will kill you in your sleep.
The Bottom Line: Hilarious as Detroit Metal City isright from the git-go, I do worry how it’ll hold up on repeat readings,or where the story can go from here except in circles. From the outsideit does look like there’s only so many ways they can milk theunderlying premise. But part of the fun is, indeed, seeing how longthey can keep it up before running totally aground. Detroit, here wecome.
Other Lives Of The Mind