Choujin X 3 coverChoujin X Vol. 3
Written and illustrated by Sui Ishida.
Translated by Jan Mitsuko Cash.
Lettered by Evan Waldinger and Snir Aharon.
Published by VizMedia.

Despite Choujin X having a tendency to drift between genres on a whim, Sui Ishida knows comics. The timing of ludicrous circumstances turning serious will have you groaning through one chapter then ripping through the next. The mutant school kids Tokio and Ely are training to become full-fledged peacekeepers. Which is good, because the mystery monsters that made them into choujin are still on the hunt.

The chaos of the previous volumes have become a rhythm that suits comics. A wave that rises as furious physical confrontations between people with superpowers, then plummets into the deep emotional connections they make with each other during their mundane downtime. Ishida gets comics. Though the air often tastes of blood in a pre-code horror comic way, Choujin X uses the monster-of-the-week pattern to bring the chickens of the past home to roost.

Now that I’ve read enough Choujin X to be confident it’s first and foremost a superhero comic, I no longer know how it feels about the genre. Students with superpowers are trained to intervene when outlaws of their own kind pose a threat to humanity. I thought, yeah. This guy, like many, read a lot of Marvel comics, and wants to tell some of their stories. For the record, that possibly/probably isn’t true, but it sure reads that way. However Tokio, the super-stalker turned super-helper, comes off as kind of a dingbat. Despite his natural inclination to do good, has no clue how to help people. He just goes full beastification mode and ends up hurting as often as helping. Does Ishida actually like superheroes? Not sure.

It reads like you get your choujin powers because there’s something wrong with you. Something traumatic happened that feeds off of the gas of being a hero. Your obsession becomes the cornerstone of your identity- as a dangerous other. Like Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Whatever your broken piece is, the drive to compensate for it unlocks your powers. The worse your headspace is, the stronger you get.

Paper Moon eye gougeSo Choujin X was already doing some weird Slan stuff. Choujin feared by a society they secretly shape because they can pass for “normal” people is. Uh. Not the part of Slan X-books usually adapt. Adding the plot point that all mutants are bad, actually, is not a good look at all. Is Ishida linking abnormality to difference? Sloppy metaphors that evoke the vestigial (debatable) antisemitism of AE Van Voght and (peer-reviewed) ablism of Arthur Conan Doyle, that’s how I know I’m reading a superhero comic.

The best part is, as genre dictates, fun people who can do cool shit. Paper Moon, the (surprise!) paper choujin, is my new favorite character. She had me already with the cute little cut out dogs sniffing around the last book. But! She’s also a deadly martial artist who could sword and smash you even without powers (the sword is a Dragon Slayer-sized pair of scissors, of course). And she can make paper weapons that work, ranging from Spawn chains to Wile E Coyote dynamite! And turn people into paper?! Top class character concept.

The powers in Choujin X reminds me of Alan Davis doing Excalibur. Paper Moon would be right at home in the Technet. What she does, paper chains that bind and hold, folding someone up into an envelope, they work great because you can draw anything in a comic. Bringing logistics into the scenario just keeps you from having a weird cool super villain ability set. Tokio gets his ass kicked in the way that Jimmy Olsen did back when your grandad was reading comics.

Actually what might be the most authentic-to-superhero-comics experience I’ve had so far is the issue before the awesome fight with Paper Moon just totally sucked. The little bit of slice of life surrounding the fight was great, but mostly it was a two star Kinnikuman character talking a bunch of ho-hum politics and stomping around. The last page hints at the chaos to come; the best part of the issue is what’s coming in the next one. That’s what a run on an ongoing comic is like. Half of it is satisfying, half of it is kind of tedious. When it’s cooking there’s no question as to why you’re reading.

Choujin XStylistically Ishid’a art has shifted to something looser and closer than before. The sketchy lack of refined lines works well as it leans into an action arc. Choujin X is great at pacing out action scenes. The rhythm of the layouts marry frequency and intensity, crunching fast panels together and giving big hits big space. The action itself is borderline ludicrous, but its presentation is deadly serious.

Choujin X has already changed tone with some frequency over the course of its run. You can watch Ishida experimenting, finding where the story wanted to go. The third volume has found that path, is on a track. The destination is pain.

The violence mounts as one fight follows the next. The power required to survive becomes monstrous. Ishida’s tithe for boundless sanguine sadism is watching the people you want to see more of get gored. Choujin X uses Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost in the Shell anime effect where pain comes across as visual distortion. Then destruction. Imagine the fish-eye lens effect that spreads the face. The eyes push away from each other, and keep pushing, until the flesh is ripped apart.

The three volumes of Choujin X can be found from VizMedia and wherever better books, comics, and manga are sold.