Here we are at the third issue of this shiny new comic by Ben Kahn and Bruno Hidalgo, Heavenly Blues. Since this review is coming out on the issue’s actual release, I won’t go into much detail as I do with Saga or WicDiv. But one thing I can say for sure is that the first two issues are a pretty nice introduction to the characters and themes. This third one, though, is a good show of what the comic is capable of offering in the future–thrill and depth, two key factors to a good and lengthy life for a comic.
Meet the Ninja
The outdated Team Fortress 2 reference just feels right here. Judging by the two previous issues and this one, the remainder of the heist in Heaven will run parallel to character-centered narratives. This is a resource used pretty often, but we can look past this diegetic manner as long as the execution is good. And I’m glad to say it is quite good. The cover succinctly conveys that we’ll learn about this Hideki Iwata fella and the demons that haunt him, presumably leading to his habits. With generous servings of trauma and redemption as dessert.
Now, a personal peeve of mine is triteness. We’ve seen some tropes and conventions used to exhaustion in countless forms of media when it comes to Japan. At best, it’s dull; at worst, it’s sheer orientalism. However, Ben Kahn’s writing avoids some of the holes others tend to stumble in by at least offering some actual context.
I beg pardon beforehand, as my knowledge of Japanese history is cursory. In just a few panels, we learn Hideki hails from Japan during the Sengoku period, rife with conflict as a consequence of the process of unification. Legit stuff.
In this setting, Iwata is a legend of the craft who has opted to retire. Instead of fighting, he teaches others to become ninjas. Kudos to the writer for dropping the clichès and the Naruto bullshit in favor of the pragmatic actual methods of Ninjutsu proper. Anyway, there are warnings of a scorned warlord’s front coming his way. Fabled Nobunaga Oda is not one to fuck with. In spite of the approaching menace, though, Iwata chooses to remain impassive. Later on, he will pay a hefty price for this, hence his damnation upon dying; not out of villainy, but nonetheless involving pain and grief.
One may argue that the essence of a character comes out by its stronger hues during moments of high tension. Manners of execution vary, but they tend to surround love and violence. All quite ‘Eros and Thanatos’. It’s still early for the former, though there is a constant show of comradery and loyalty between Isaiah and Erin. So, we’ll focus on the latter, manifested through one of the signature settings of the Western as a genre: the bar fight.
A betrayal from an ally outside the party leads to an ambush in the saloon, where the five rogues discuss the nuances of the plan, as you do. As they face off the rows of generic-raiderish-mercenary demon mooks, every main character gets to show off something pertaining to their personal coherence. A devious kind of diversity shines bright and colorful here. Isaiah is the cool straight man, Erin is the wee violent one, Coin Counter is the red blooded gunslinger, Amunet is the snarky striker. And, of course, Hideki the rugged elder. Swap the setting and we basically have something of a Serenity crew here—a ragtag bunch of misfits. Lovely.
Now, whether or not we’ll see them become big damn heroes, that’s still up in the air. It’s likely, though.
As for the action proper, it’s everything you’d want without falling into gore porn. (Excess does kind of kill ambience sometimes, especially if the tone of the comic is as moderate as this one.) Some characters are more vicious than others, but Hidalgo still keeps it contained. In the heat of the moment, the action becomes divided by a figurative and literal firewall, which returns us to Hideki proving his worth. His struggle with addiction, and his trauma by extension, will be a factor to consider as he plays out his role in the heist to come. And that’s only talking about this one character. There is still plenty of potential for baggage, violence, and maybe sexy times.
So, this issue of Heavenly Blues embarked on the first step proper to the heist in the afterline as they rendezvous with Barbiel. As a personal input, I’ll say I really quite like it. But the matter of pacing is something of a concern. I do hope the character flashbacks won’t always run parallel with the story every issue. It wouldn’t be a deal breaker but it’s a personal preference I’ll afford to express. So long as the quality in narrative and art remains constant, as it did in this issue, I think this comic will have a bright future. As it is, this has already become a fond setting of Hell for me.
I’d like to thank Mr. Kahn for supplying us with these first three issues for review. It’s been a joy to read.
Heavenly Blues Issue #3 Credits
Writer: Ben Kahn
Artist: Bruno Hidalgo