Two volumes back I noted that Black Lagoon is one volume setup and one volume payoff. Volume 7 is almost entirely setup with one big dollop of gunbunny lunacy in the opening chapters to whet the appetite. But it’s good setup — it’s not just plot cogs creaking, but further definition of character. In a series like Black Lagoon the characterization and plotting are joined at the hip anyway.
The end of the last volume kicked off a new plot arc: the return of the Lovelace family’s cadre of murderous maids. Maids, plural. As it turns out, the nutjob Roberta is indeed back in town and looking for revenge. She’s convinced the folks who killed the head of the Lovelace family with a well-placed bomb are squirreled away in Roanapur somewhere, and she doesn’t care how many dead bodies she leaves behind before she finds them. The gun-toting maid we met back at the end of the last volume, though, was Fabiola — another servant of the same ilk, and the one whom the “young master” of the Lovelace clan is currently depending on most for his protection. Fabiola’s nowhere nearly as unhinged as Roberta out of the gate, but she’s enough of a handful that Rock (and by extension Revy) are persuaded to lend them a hand looking for Roberta to keep the body count to a minimum.
They quickly find that Fabiola’s the least of their worries. Sure, she instigates a high-caliber shootout that destroys most of Bao’s bar (again), but only because one of the many competing factions in town figures it’s a good idea to take her out first. Wrong. The girl shoots back, for one — and two, anything that destabilizes the delicate balance of power in town (Hotel Moscow, the triads, the other gangs) is too dangerous to let run around unchecked. Triad leader Chang and Hotel Moscow head Balalaika make all that clear when they organize a high-level summit with all the local crime bosses. They have all the more reason to let this matter be handled by as a few people as possible (read: Rock / Revy) when they learn that certain major-league government agencies with the initials C, I and A may be responsible. Whatever they do, it had better be put into action fast. Roberta’s not just unhinged; she’s come clean off the doorframe, and a madwoman is capable of anything. (Just ask Revy, her number-one self-appointed nemesis, and arguably only marginally saner in her own way.)
So what’s Rock’s answer to all of this? Throw himself into the middle of it — and when he does, he ends up fighting his friends as much as his enemies. A struggle with the latter’s a given, but his own friends see Rock do this and can’t think of him as anything but a deluded innocent. Deep down, Rock still believes that most people are fundamentally good at heart — him included, which is why he’d rather step up to help a young boy (even if that “boy” is the scion of a powerful family) than sit by with his arms folded. He may be surrounded by, as Stuart Chase once put it, “the greatest idle and contented sitters-by you ever saw”, but that doesn’t mean he has to emulate their example. If anything, he’s hoping they’ll emulate his.
There is far more to it than that, though. I think writer/artist Rei Hiroe knows this, and has been easing his way towards it for some time — which is why he chooses to make his points about these things through a look on a person’s face as much as he does a line of dialogue. When Rock says to Revy “You’re the gun, and I’m the bullet”, there’s more being said than a potentially crass metaphor. Look at his face on page 161, which is as cold-eyed and determined as we’ve ever seen him (and unlike many of the other characters, not half-hidden behind sunglasses and thus forcing us to guess what he’s emoting). Now compare him to Revy, on the same page, looking for all the world like she’s a lost soul. She talks tough, and others act tough. But more and more, Rock is the one who dreams tough.