Thursday, September 17, 2009

More considerations about Golgo 13

It seems to me that in fiction where the protagonist is a hitman that he tends to follow a certain arc, from stone cold killer to genuine hero. At some point the hitman encounters someone who makes him reconsider his position; even prior to this encounter, we already see that the killer has his own code which renders him a little human to our eyes. Then we see Philip Raven changed by a pretty face; Leon changed by caring for an orphaned girl; Martin Blank changed by true love; even Frank Martin has a sense of moral outrage.

Since my post about the first volume of Viz's Golgo 13 collections, I've read another six volumes and I'm here to tell you: Golgo 13 does not follow these patterns. It's certainly understandable - most of the films mentioned above were intended as a single story (in two, the lead dies after his epiphany, what Ebert calls the Deadly Change of Heart), while Golgo 13 is a serial which has had to endure 40 years of tales. But Golgo 13 is not a particularly heroic hitman. His own code goes like this: he will kill anyone for money; he will see a job through to the end (ie, he will not cheat an employer); he will kill only the assigned target (and anyone else who tries to kill him); he will seek revenge if someone double crosses him.

If that sounds like someone capable of performing despicable deeds, well, go to the head of the class. Among other things, we learn that Golgo 13 shot Dodi al-Fayed in the head shortly before his limo crashed on August 31, 1997 ("English Rose," Golgo 13 Vol.4). click to enlarge

What a gentleman, eh? Then again, some people like him; Golgo 13 turns out to be an old acquaintence of Nelson Mandela (they spent some time in the pokey together), which proves helpful when Mandela needs help to prevent a coup ("Power to the People," Golgo 13 Vol.3). click to enlarge

Part of what makes these Golgo 13 stories so interesting to me is the "current events" nature of the storytelling. Golgo 13 rubs elbows with all sorts of contemporary figures and winds up figuring in several major events. We learn what he was up to during the Tiananmen Massacre, for instance ("Hydra," Golgo 13 Vol.2). We also see Golgo 13 head into outer space to meddle with the Apollo-Soyuz mission ("The Orbital Hit," Golgo 13 Vol.4), prevent a nuclear plant meltdown in California ("Wasteland," Golgo 13 Vol.10) and halt an attempted coup on Okinawa - without killing anyone ("Okinawa Syndrome," Golgo 13 Vol.11)!

Which is not to say that every Golgo 13 story is "ripped from the headlines." Some are simply crime stories such as "Headhunter" (Golgo 13 Vol.9), in which a businessman is murdered and his father tries to find the identity of his killer so that he can hire Golgo 13 to finish him off. In "the Wrong Man" (Golgo 13 Vol.11), a hapless salesman finds himself mistaken for Golgo 13 and like something from a Hitchcock film is able to string his "employers" along and rather enjoys the respect that comes from being a notorious killer...until they send him on a job to kill a garage full of armed men! click to enlarge

The stories often present Golgo 13 as a force of nature, not a man. The focus is usually kept on other characters in the cast - the people who hire him, the people targeted for death at his hands, people just swept up in the chaos around him; sometimes a story will be more than halfway over before Golgo makes an entrance. We care for the supporting characters, not Golgo, which is how they're able to keep bringing him back without humanizing him to the point where he'd have to reform like the Hollywood hitmen I listed above. Still, one story does force Golgo to grow a conscience when he discovers that his vast personal fortune from decades of assassinations is being used to fund oil drilling ("A Fierce Southern Current," Golgo 13 Vol.3). click to enlarge

Comparisons were often made between Golgo 13 and James Bond; I think it's interesting that since Daniel Craig took over as Bond we've seen the film version come closer to Golgo - the last two Bond films were certainly more intense and violent than usual. I don't recommend Golgo 13 to everyone, but the adventures of an unrepentant, unstoppable hitman interest you then he's the man.

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