Tokyo Ghost is a futurist, dystopian comic created by Rick Remender and Sean Murphy, and published by Image Comics. It is, in their own words, a love letter to Road Warrior, Judge Dredd, and 13 Assassins. The story opens on the Isles of Los Angeles in 2089, and follows the exploits of Led Dent and Debbie Decay who are a sort of corporate police for a company called Flak Corp. The world has descended into complete reliance on technology and over-the-top entertainment to keep the unemployed population occupied. With almost all jobs given over to robots people seek distractions in ever increasing extremes. Televised torture, death races, and extreme interactive pornography are just some of the network programming in this world. Led Dent is the muscle, that’s addicted to his shows, and Debbie is one of the few tech free people in the world, desperate to save the love of her life from the disease that consumes him.
While very much an homage to stories like Road Warrior and Tank Girl, the book also reminds me of some of my favorite shorts from Heavy Metal Magazine. Right from the beginning you’re thrown into the action, but thankfully it’s not too hard to keep up. The book is rough, dark, and humorous, and it pulls no punches, so be prepared. This is not a children’s book. Cursing, violence, and nudity aren’t shied away from, but they’re not gratuitous by any means. The comic has a sharp art style that may not appeal to everyone, but sets the tone for the book quite well.
The backdrop of the story is a typical futuristic dystopia, with a few clever twists. Of course, the world is extremely polluted, and corporations run pretty much everything, not entirely unique with this type of work. The story in this setting is what sets this apart. The book has a sort of pulp detective feel with a healthy mix of classic samurai films. The characters’ dialogue feels very natural, witty, clever, and on point. Remender jumps right in from page one, giving us backstory as we go, but getting right to the heart of the tale without any drawn-out exposition. The love between Led and Debbie is heartbreaking, especially as we gain more insight into their past, and what brought them to where they are in the book. Debbie is tech free, unmodified and free of addiction to everything that the world has to offer while Led is addicted to all of it. All she wants is to get the job done and retire somewhere where she can bring him back from the dark hole his mind has fallen into, and all Led wants are his shows. Deep inside Led loves her too, but like any addict he can’t shake the need to feed the monster that controls him.
Like I said, the dialogue is clever, and witty. There’s no unnecessary blocks of dialogue which a lot of us wind up glossing over because it doesn’t really drive the story. Every character says what needs to be said, with subtle humor and blunt-force jabs at the flaws in their world that we can see as parallels to our own. While the story and setting deal with many social and political issues we see today, it’s not preachy, and the characters don’t all sound like they’re grandstanding on a bully pulpit, something that is starting to become a popular theme in other comics. Debbie is smart and funny, sensitive without being soft, and a strong character without overpowering the pair. Led is quiet, troubled, and has a page presence that doesn’t need a lot of dialogue, which makes him the perfect counterpoint to Debbie, and a great team to watch through the panels.
Sean Murphy’s hard lines and rough style are perfect for this type of story. The world is imperfect, and so are the characters, and the sharp pen strokes and dark colors put you right into the feel of the world. Murphy does a great job with the juxtaposition between L.A. and Japan in later issues as well, bringing in more color and beautiful scenery, but still with very hard edges and dark contrasts. It stands out as very unique, and I don’t think any other artist could quite capture the feeling of the world of Tokyo Ghost quite like Murphy does. Something Murphy is very skilled with this book is conveying motion, which has been important so far. Whether it’s high-speed chases through the streets of L.A., or the high-flying martial arts and sword combat in later issues, the movement and action flows from panel to panel with a great sense of action.
Part one has me hooked and looking forward to more. Part pulp detective tale, part samurai story, and another part love and loss; it’s a great combination told very well. We watch Debbie do everything she can to save her lover, who is hopelessly addicted to his ‘juice’ and his shows. We see him try, fight hard to get to the place she wants him to be, and at the end neither of their stories progress how I expected them to. Outside their personal story they are being controlled by the corporation that wants the resource of a healed Japan, and the leader of said ‘Eden’ who wants them to stay and help fix the world. Of course betrayal shatters their time in utopia, and this chapter of the story ends with as many questions as answers. Thankfully we only have to wait until April to find out what happens from here.
Tokyo Ghost is the first comic since Lady Killer that I wanted to read the entire series back to back, and was glad that I picked them all up at once so I didn’t have to wait. I recommend this book to anyone that enjoys pulp comics, gritty stories, and doesn’t mind a bit of adult material. If you’re a fan of Mad Max or Judge Dredd, I think you’ll like this book as well.