Monday, July 12, 2010

Kato 1 and 2: A Double Roundhouse Kick to the Wallet

Kato 1 and 2
Publisher: Dynamite Entertainment
Writer: Ande Parks
Art: Ale Garza and Diego Bernard

The topmost text on the covers of Kato, the Dynamite Entertainment comic series, inform me it’s “from the pages of Kevin Smith’s Green Hornet,” with Smith’s name a few point sizes larger than Green Hornet’s. Whenever I hear the name, I tend to think of Bruce Lee. I wasn’t born when Lee played the role on American TV, nor did I see it in its incarnation in Hong Kong as The Kato Show. But Bruce Lee is a personal hero of mine and an ongoing source of inspiration. Kevin Smith?

Not so much. On the other hand, I’m not sure how many hardcore Kevin Smith fans really care that about this moldy oldster Green Hornet, so I can see why Dynamite chose to emphasize his involvement—my guess is his fanbase exceeds the Hornet’s. And since his Kato isn’t Bruce Lee’s, they can’t play up that angle.

So why in the hell did I spend money on not one but two comic books—at $3.99 each grotesquely overpriced even if this were from the pages of Kurt Vonnegut’s Green Hornet and drawn by Michaelangelo—with Smith as the main attraction?

It’s set in Japan. Where I just happened to have lived for six years. And, yes, I bought it because of my profound respect and admiration for Bruce Lee and his legacy. Also, I have a weakness for stories about ass-kicking women of the martial arts variety, and the cover on the second issue depicts what's apparently a female Kato in a wicked version of the original character's black chauffeur's uniform, kicking Green Hornet's arm. Some sort of violent dispute between partners? How dramatic! So I really wanted to like this series.

Unfortunately, if these two books were the first half of a Kevin Smith Green Hornet movie, I'd have walked out of the theater rather than risk further disappointment in the second.

From the clichéd staccato captions: “Center City. Twenty-one years ago,” the opening shamelessly cribbed from the James Bond flick The Man With the Golden Gun-- by way of all the comics and movies have stolen it since— to the stale revenge plot, it’s a comic book so generic in every way, it might as well be set in Des Moines rather than Japan.

After a few panels, I was looking for Austin Powers and Felicity Shagwell to motor by in their Shaguar quipping, "You know, it's amazing how the Japanese countryside looks in no way like Southern California." It doesn't help that Ale Garza eschews almost all exterior establishing shots that require place-specific architecture in the first issue. When Kato's improbably-named daughter Mulan hits a dance club in Tokyo (we don't even get to learn what part of Tokyo it's in, because that might have required effort on the creative team's part), Garza cuts straight to an interior shot of a club rather than risk hand fatigue by drawing a recognizable Tokyo locale. Bernard follows his lead in the second issue, which is basically an extended fight scene playing out in front of some white squares that are supposed to indicate windows. The visual storytelling throughout is shockingly amateurish. Imagine a book without a single attempt at a simple action-to-action panel sequence, because that's what this is. Instead, Garza uses tight close ups and lets sound effects do the work Dynamite Entertainment paid him for. The result is fragmented, with baffling, almost non sequitor imagery. There are actually two panels where it appears a fist is striking someone's wrist (we can't tell whose) and a horse is kicking a pillow. Bernard actually manages a few pages of a coherent fight sequence, but it's too little, too late.

Parks's cliched stoic yakuza warrior character blathering about how in "Japan, family honor is all-important" does little to add verisimilitude. Most of the dialogue consists of overly formal declarative sentences that I suppose might convince a few readers with extremely high gullibility levels they're reading translated speech. It's approximately as Japanese as a hypothetical episode of the old G.I. Joe animated series featuring the back stories of Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow, but not up to the level of, say, that TV movie Scooby Doo and the Samurai Sword. I'd suggest the next time Parks attempts to write a story about the yakuza, he take a little time and read Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan by Robert Whiting and McMafia by Mischa Glenny. Both of those are exciting reads with vividly realized real-life characters and situations, elements sorely lacking in this comic. Or, if pressed for time, Parks could just rent The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum on DVD. It's ludicrous horseshit but still entertaining and several creative ticks above either issue of Kato.

It really makes me long for the days of Michael Golden’s kick-ass Jackie Chan series Spartan X. Golden meticulously creates worlds of vibrancy and believability, so when he moves his characters through them you not only know exactly what they’re doing and in what order, but where they’re doing it. He refuses to cheat. But I guess that’s too much to expect from expensive funnybook magazines these days.

On the other hand, I’m glad Kevin Smith himself didn’t script this. It would’ve been a grungy spectacle of tentacle rape and bukkake jokes broken up (or justified) by bathetic scenes of father-daughter bonding between Kato and Mulan capable of sugar-rotting the enamel right off a reader's teeth. But even a Smithian “Japan is full of perverts” take might have been more believable than what Parks, Garza and Bernard toss at us.

Sorry, Kato and Mulan, at almost four bucks a pop for this flimsy hackwork, I won’t be back to find out if your whole father-daughter vengeance team thing works out.

Let's end on a positive note:


Anonymous said...


Nathaniel said...

Aw, I'm disappointed to hear that Garza's work is subpar here. I've rather liked most of his DC work, though I think he's strongest when doing teenage characters. And granted, I really haven't kept up with him since he stopped working for DC and moved on to doing 'girls in bikinis' books for Aspen and other work I have little interest in.

Joel Bryan said...

Yeah, I was so bummed about this book I went back and looked at some of Garza's Batgirl work, and it's almost like a completely different artist in storytelling approach. Maybe the scripts were tighter over at DC, or maybe those were his "A-efforts" as opposed to this. I'm not sure what happened with these books, but they have a very tossed-off, disposable quality.

Kind of a shame, because I really had my hopes up here.

Anonymous said...