The cynic in me wants to call Jormungand a poor man’s Black Lagoon. The realist in me says that’s not all that far removed from the truth anyway. Jormungand plays like a spinoff title, where two minor Lagoon characters were given a book of their own — one which only copied some of the most obvious aspects of Lagoon. Some crucial spark went missing in the process.
I hate drawing such overt comparisons to someone else’s work, because deep down I know that’s not fair. Someone sweated blood to make this book happen, and I should at least try to meet them halfway. But every time I turned the pages, I kept getting smacked in the face with more similarities than differences between Jormungand and Lagoon, and all they did was remind me of how much better Lagoon was in every appreciable way.
Jormungand gives us two main characters: Jonah, a kid who probably hasn’t yet hit puberty, but who’s already racked up more of a body count than most men three times his age. His family was killed in an internecine conflict somewhere in Eastern Europe (or Western Asia, depending on what cartographer you’re using), a battle fueled by the international arms merchants who profiteered from the war.
Jonah despises war and violence, but it’s what he knows best. He knows how to kill, how to use most every gun that’ll fit into his hands — and if he ever gets the chance, he’d like to use those skills on the arms dealers who contributed to the death of his mother and father. It ought to classify as the grandest possible irony that he ends up in the employ of one Koko Hekmatyar, a young woman with blond hair and burning eyes who runs an arms-dealing consortium. She’s got a brassy, the-world-is-mine attitude that is worlds, possibly galaxies apart from Jonah’s introverted silence. She wants big scores and big money; Jonah wants to be given his orders and left alone.
Koko learns within the first dozen or so pages that she needs to keep the kid on a short leash. At one point they’re being tailed by another car, and Jonah’s response is to simply stand up through the sunroof and take out the follower without warning. Why doesn’t this kid simply scrag her and walk off? Because she gives him a Dutch Uncle talk about that right from the git-go: you could kill me, but then you’d have to kill all my comrades, too — and there’s also the fact that with a gun in your hand, you feel that much more powerful than at any other time. Stick with me, kid, and you’ll go places.
They go places. Among them is an unnamed Eastern European country that’s taking delivery of a load of weaponry being sold by a competing arms dealer. Koko’s plan is to muscle in, take the weapons convoy for herself, sell it to the client on her own terms, and then live long enough to get out of town and spend their money. And again, I’m stuck on drawing comparisons with Black Lagoon, because with only minor modifications this could easily be a plot line from that comic, right down to the tough-talking table-turning that Koko pulls on her rival. He has snipers; she knows he has snipers; she also has Jonah. She also pulls a similarly sly bit of “who would you really rather shoot first?” when she’s caught between Curry, the commander she’s delivering to, and the local warring factions.
Because the parallels between the two books suggest themselves so often, it all comes down to which one does the most with what it was. Jormungand’s just plain missing something, and I think after reading it twice now I’ve put my finger on it. It’s the slashing wit, the devil-may-care electricity that erupted between everyone — people on the same side as well as enemies — in Lagoon. With that story, there was the perpetual ominous undercurrent that Revy could pop at any time and shoot Rock in the head for saying the wrong thing on the wrong day. Here, everything feels an order of magnitude tamer. In this book, they’re in trouble; in Black Lagoon, they were standing on stilts and still up to their throats.
What we have here is a competent enough story in its own right, but Rei Hiroe’s guns-and-politics-and-more-guns epic of asskicking trumps it in every respect. If you haven’t started with Lagoon yet, go there first, and pick up Jormungand only if you can’t get enough dakka.