Reviewby Carlo Santos, Jun 18th 2007
Former assassin Train Heartnet may have left the mysterious Chronos organization two years ago, but they just seem to keep coming back into his life. With murderous madman Creed Diskenth on the loose, Chronos turned to Train for help—but he wasn't interested. However, a trio of Chronos operatives codenamed "Cerberus" has now set out to stop Creed's world domination plans, and thanks to some careful behind-the-scenes maneuvering, Train ends up at the scene of the battle anyway. Creed's bloodthirstiness is not to be underestimated, however: he unleashes a nanomachine-powered beast against Chronos's men, then demands that Train join his forces, and when he doesn't get what he wants, Creed completely loses his mind. Now Train and his buddies must get out alive before Creed blows up his own headquarters in frustration.
Black Cat has always been about action and adventure, but Volume 9 takes it to a new level as it hits a climactic point in the story. With multiple plotlines still up in the air, it now comes together in a culmination of gunfights, swordfights, hand-to-hand fights, and catfights (okay, maybe not that last one). If cool dudes with cool weapons blowing stuff up sounds like your idea of a good time, then go no further. However, amongst all this explosive action and all these characters coming together, something is glaringly missing from the series: its heart and soul.
"But wait!" comes the retort. "Isn't action and adventure supposed to be Black Cat's heart and soul away?" Well, it's the surface, but it's not what's inside. There's no doubt that this volume is at its most fun when engaged in the throes of battle—but deep down, the characters just don't feel real. Train and Nizer's vendettas against Creed aren't emotionally moving in any way; they're just plot points that give the characters motivation. It's like watching these people fight from a distance, but not understanding their feelings. Yes, you can still cheer for all the slick gunslinging and bloody sword-swinging, but the people and places in this story are just part of a cardboard world.
Perhaps part of the problem is that the main combatants against Creed are the Cerberus faction—three men who are essentially secondary characters. Sven and Eve, probably the most appealing characters in the series, are just waiting by their car and never get into the action. Train shows up for the battle but runs off after a couple of chapters. Even Rinslet, who was instrumental in setting up the situation, ends up being taken hostage and must await rescue. Basically, there's no excitement or involvement for the main characters.
However, for those who aren't as invested in the characters and just want to see some action, this volume is a joy to behold. It opens with the Cerberus guys running up the stairs—and that's an indication of the pace that's going to be set throughout. There's no time to take a breath; the punches and slashes and gunshots fly hard and fast; every chapter manages to end on a dizzying cliffhanger that propels itself into the next one. Only in the last couple of chapters does the smoke finally clear, and perhaps the main satisfaction from this volume is seeing an action-packed battle and a major arc come to a close.
Skillful page layouts are part of the reason for the rapid pacing; widely spaced panels and dynamic angles give a feeling of page-turning, breakneck speed. However, the old standbys of boys' action comics are overused as well: speedlines as far as the eye can see, and lots of angry screaming faces. Creative limitations also become clear when faced with look-alike character designs: a couple of Cerberus operatives look way too much like Train and Creed, and this becomes doubly problematic when they're all in the same scene. Even their outfits have that generic, spy-guy kind of look. In fact, the most interesting-looking characters are probably Creed's minions, the super-powered "Apostles of the Stars" and the monstrous werewolf in the early chapters. Ultimately, this is the kind of art that's just good enough carry an action series, but not much more.
Most of the dialogue in this series is short and to the point, so translation isn't much of an issue. (Clearly, when the most complex sentiment being expressed is "I'm going to kill you for revenge," it doesn't exactly need a language expert.) Sound effects, meanwhile, are big, loud, and completely re-done in English. With such busy artwork, though, the effects easily blend into the pages. Bonus material comes in the form of some artistic ramblings—a little 4-panel silliness and 1-2 page shorts poking fun at the series. If you've ever wondered about that recurring cat mascot, here's a chance to find out...
In the end, Black Cat fans should be happy to see the series reach a major high point in this volume. However, that's about all it does; any attempts at emotional involvement or character development are pushed aside in favor of nonstop battle. If popcorn action is all you want, then this has plenty of it, but much like popcorn, it's not particularly filling. Main characters are ignored, personal histories are glossed over, and people fight each other simply because that's the thing to do. The rivalry between Train, Creed and Chronos will rage on, but there'll always be that distance, that emotional detachment from their true Fighting Spirit.
Overall : C+
Story : C
Art : C+
+ A rousing, action-packed volume that brings multiple story arcs together.
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