Best Shots Advance Reviews: NO LONGER HUMAN, G.I. JOE #3

G.I. Joe #3
Credit: IDW Publishing
Credit: VIZ Media

No Longer Human
Written and Illustrated by Junji Ito
Based on the novel by Osamu Dazai
Published by Viz Media
Review by Justin Partridge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10

A seminal Japanese novel is graced with a terror only Junji Ito could provide in Viz Media’s adaptation of No Longer Human. Based on the resonant 1948 novel of the same name, writer/artist Junji Ito introduces readers to Yozo Oba, the eldest son of an assemblyman, growing up in post-war Japan. But something is wrong with Oba, something that will fester through his entire life. He carries a “profound dread and fear of human beings” — meaning those that are happy, contented, and easy-going within social interactions.

And through Ito’s pen, this fear manifests itself as ghoulish hallucinations and ghostly stalkers hounding the troubled boy, leading him to wear a sort of “clown mask” throughout his life, masquerading as a jovial and happy-go-lucky scamp through most encounters he has with the world around him. But through harrowing encounters with other “outsiders,'' Oba's mask is often seen as what it is, amplifying his anxiety to deadly levels. Worse still, his apathetic attitude and profound longing for connection leads him to leave a trail of destruction across Japan, ruining relationships and his social standing all in the pursuit to stave off the darkness of his own mind.

If that sounds rather oppressive, I have to warn you, it is — especially in the early chapters, where Oba’s artificial aloofness is taken advantage of by adult predators across his childhood, deepening his despair and self-loathing. But at the same time, Ito’s adaptation of the novel’s well-crafted prose and serialized original release, the “Memorandum” chapters replaced by the “chained” chapters of a single volume, pulls you in deeper and deeper into Oba’s psyche.

Better still, Ito’s artwork here is a much more natural, theatrical set of pencils than we are used to seeing from the artist. Leaning into the realistic emotions and large cast of characters of the novel, Ito’s pencils and inks hone the dark emotionality of the novel, occasionally spiked with truly nightmarish sequences projected from Oba’s sickened brain. Standing as the latest, arguably best adaptation of the original novel, No Longer Human is a must-read for Ito fans and outsider literature aficionados alike.

First a bit of background for those unfamiliar. 1948’s No Longer Human (also literally translated as “Disqualified From Being Human”) by Osamu Dazai is one of Japan’s literary masterworks. It has been adapted several times, both in film form and manga, and still holds the record for Japan second-best selling novel. Presented in a serialized form at first, framed as Oba’s “notebooks,” the novel deeply resonated with the disenfranchised Japanese youth of the time and later attained a sort of cult status after Dazai’s death shortly after the last chapter was released. That status reached a sort of mytholization once critics and literary scholars hypothesized the novel was a sort of “autobiographical will” for Dazai, who was thought to be suffering from severe post-traumatic stress syndrome during the writing.

Now, in the hands and under the pens of Junji Ito, No Longer Human offers itself up to a new generation of wayward youth. And it does so with engaging, brutalist narration and consistently emotive artwork. Largely adapting the original novel wholesale, aside from one majorly impressive and heart-wrenching deviation toward the end, Ito holds the dark worldview of the lead and the shocking turns his life takes right in the faces of readers, allowing them to make their own choices as to if Oba is a “real” person or not.

And again, the turns No Longer Human takes are truly shocking. Some made even more so by Ito’s now trademark visualist style and art direction. But it also is consistently, against all odds, engaging to read, each chapter laid out like a crushing cliffhanger. It’s as if Ito was daring you to see just how far he and Oba are willing to take it. Ito also finds a chilling dichotomy throughout anchored around Oba’s “clowning” — as the narration spreads the grimness of his disconnection from the world, Ito is usually drawing him doing Harold Lloyd impressions or plastering a garish fake smile on his face as he attempts to disarm his peers and lovers with jokes and physical comedy. It makes the falseness of his existence all the more glaring and all the more uncomfortable.

Nightmarish and thought-provoking, No Longer Human is a worthy tribute and representation of the singular original work. Though not nearly as “monstrous” as his past original works, Junji Ito reveals a whole new depth and realism, both in his artwork and writing. Just don’t expect to feel too sunny after reading it.

Credit: IDW Publishing

G.I. Joe #3
Written by Paul Allor
Art by Chris Evenhuis and Brittany Peer
Lettering by Neil Uyetake
Published by IDW Publishing
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

“Cobra’s doing the best they can.”

It’s felt like there’s been two Americas for a long time, but it feels almost a little unbelievable — and yet somehow completely fitting — that of all the comics in the Direct Market, it’s G.I. Joe that has the stones to tackle this real-world divide. Looking at this unsettling new world order from the ground up, writer Paul Allor and artist Chris Evenhuis bring a nuanced and evocative take on a small town forgotten by the old America, but given a tainted second chance by Cobra’s regime.

Millville, Missouri used to be barely a speck on the map — but with Cobra in command, they’ve become an unexpected hub for the greater supply chain, bringing a degree of purpose and economic prosperity that this rural community can only be grateful for. As a Missouri native, I’ve seen plenty of these towns first-hand, and it’s a testament to Allor’s skills as a writer that he’s able to so naturally illustrate why our friends and neighbors could so easily be turned against us — even in spite of draconian measures like ration delays and police state surveillance. The banality of evil is what allows it to flourish — and if you’ve spent years on the outside looking in, it’s easy to accept evil not as the price of doing business, but the price of simply staying afloat.

But it would be easy to cast this iteration of G.I. Joe as a black-and-white affair, but Allor’s take on the Joes themselves proves it’s anything but. It’s been a daring move for him to recast these characters as civilian freedom fighters rather than career military men — but that’s allowed for the ethical components of the series to blossom. While Lightfoot is quick to disparage the town’s complacency, Roadblock is ready to risk the entire mission to get these civilians the food and medicine they need to survive. The fact that the Joes themselves don’t have a clean-cut answer to this occupation doesn’t just feel human, but at times just feels like a heightened view of the world outside our window — it’s truly poignant stuff.

And of course, it doesn’t hurt that the artwork is truly gorgeous. Artist Chris Evenhuis and colorist Brittany Peer are a winning combination — Evenhuis’ pages are immaculately clean with some lushly inked linework, which means that Peer is able to lend just enough rendering to give him some depth. Something I really like about Evenhuis’ style is that he’s able to lend a sense of motion without cluttering his pages with speed lines — instead, he uses tools like the way a character’s weight shifts when he jumps out of a semi, or using a trail of bullets to illustrate when someone leaps off a bridge into the water. But more importantly, Evenhuis is able to channel the acting necessary in Allor’s script — everything from mood pieces like a Cobra-themed breakfast special to Lightfoot and Roadblock bickering in a parking lot all clicks, and really helps sell this storyline as needed.

To be honest, if there’s anything that holds the script back just a little bit, it’s that with all the mood Allor and Evenhuis have conjured up in the book’s first half, the action sequence in the book’s back half almost feels like gilding the lily — there’s a point to it all that helps the team stick the landing, but I’m not sure they really needed it. Just three issues in, this relaunch of G.I. Joe feels like the comic we need in today’s society, and is rapidly becoming a series that is jumping to the top of my reading list.

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