My work schedule and the holiday rush may have derailed this month’s planned slate of Nobody Else’s Favorites posts, grip but there are still enough hours left in December 2014 to crank out a quick and qualified tribute to series that loomed large in Teen Andrew’s comics fandom…
…Masaomi Kanzaki’s Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon. The twenty-three issue bi-weekly series was part of the initial wave of localized manga offerings to hit American funnybook shops in the late 1980s, information pills back when Viz Communications subcontracted publishing duties through Eclipse Comics.
While I hadn’t been too enthusiastic about the wave of titles — Kamui, this Area 88, and Mai the Psychic Girl — born of this partnership, I fell head over heels for Xenon‘s combination of ALL-CAPS melodrama and pyrotechnic sci-fi action.
The series was essentially a grim ‘n’ gritty ‘n’ graphically violent take on Kamen Rider and Super Sentai tropes. Asuka Kano, a surly-yet-kitten-saving teen bad boy, gets abducted by a shadowy arms manufacturer named the “Bloody Sea” who transforms him into a jet-boosted cyber-weapon.
Upon escaping the corporations clutches, the temporarily amnesiac Kano returns to his old neighborhood. There he encounters a willfully oblivious classmate who had a crush on him and the serial-killing cyborg assassin sent by the Bloody Sea to terminate him.
Kano’s memory is restored after the assassin-borg guts Kano’s mother (and feel free to file that sound effect away for future use in your own work)…
…at which point he vows gory vengeance on the Bloody Sea and its sinister CEO.
He is assisted in his crusade by his goo-goo eyed classmate’s grandpa (who, in a SHOCKING turn of events, is revealed as the creator of the Bloody Sea’s cyborg program), the former leader of the fearsome “Cheerleaders” gang from Kano’s high school, and an ex-track star/photojournalist whose cyberlegs were the result of an earlier Bloody Sea experiment.
From there follows a non-stop series of explosions, blood sprays, and inexplicably shouted dialog, as the crew blasts and slices their way through mecha-piloting ‘Nam vets, simian cyber-ninjas, and other products of the Bloody Sea’s line of ludicrous techno-weaponry. It ends, as these things tend to do, with some lines of bullshit philosophy passed off as a weak substitute for a fulfilling narrative resolution.
If this sounds like a harsh assessment for something featured as Nobody Else’s Favorite, it’s because Heavy Metal Warrior Xenon is, in fact, a pretty lousy comic.
The editorial backmatter in the individual issues took pains to explain that Xenon was an example of a “new wave” of manga, one where things like internal logic and narrative clarity were sacrificed in favor of hyper-kinetic sensory overload leavened with lashings of unabashed fanservice…
…and gender politics of the grottiest kind.
It’s the type of thing that makes my adult self wince with embarrassment, but enthralled the fuck out of a fifteen year old fanboy who’d already cut his teeth on domestically produced “edgy” fare like the Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, and The Killing Joke. Manga was still a novelty in the American comics marketplace. Having access to the material was enough to silence any doubts regarding its quality.
In the days before I abandoned all pretense of artistic ambitions, I spend long hours studying Xenon pages and trying to (crudely) copy Kanzaki’s illustrations during my freshman art class. Embarrassing to remember, but not as much as the memory of dying my mop of blonde hair black in imitation of Kano’s wild manga mane.