by Carlo Santos,

Van Von Hunter

GN 3

Van Von Hunter GN 3
Having already defeated a Flaming Prince and a zombie-raising necromancer, Van Von Hunter—the heroic "hunter of evil stuff"—is set on taking a break and enjoying himself. However, the forces of evil don't think so! The Flaming Prince gets out of jail and plots his revenge (which doesn't quite turn out as planned), and the ancient shaman Kuulats has come back after 10,000 years to unleash his demonic powers upon the land of Dikay. Kuulats transforms a Tournament of Champions into a menacing Tower of Increasingly Tougher Foes, and only Van (and his party of misfit adventurers) is daring enough to take it on. Will his evil-hunting abilities be enough to stop a full-scale demonic invasion?

In an epic quest to save the world, bravery and smarts don't matter—as long as you've got dumb luck on your side. At least that's what happens in this final, fantasy-skewering volume of Van Von Hunter. Classic screwball comedy is the order of the day as our heroes mince their way to victory, whether they've really earned it or not. Unfortunately, a lot of the comedy is too classic—practically fossilized, in fact, with predictable punchlines and rhythms that take the edge off the humor. Van and the gang may be known for taking daring challenges, but the story itself stays strictly on the safe route. For some, familiarity can be fun, but it's a shame that the heroes and villains of Dikay aren't more off-beat.

Although this volume references events from earlier in the series, it still stands on its own as a quick-paced, gag-a-minute adventure. After all, the quest format is one of the easiest story patterns to work with—just introduce the heroes, set up the dilemma they're facing, and send them on the way to victory (yet so many amateurs insist on creating impossibly huge and pointless back-stories). Van Von Hunter, however, is all about poking fun at impossibly huge back-stories, along with other genre conventions: the old man with sordid tales of the past ("And everybody died!" "So why are we still alive?"), the questionable villain-turned-do-gooder, and of course, the out-of-date shaman who doesn't quite realize that evil has reached new depths in the past 10,000 years. Silly puns and non-sequiturs also add another dimension of humor to the more typical slapstick and self-deprecation.

Despite the good comedic intentions, however, it just doesn't reach laugh-out-loud levels. The gags are well-staged, and the principles of comic timing are followed to a T, but it all feels too mannered, like someone doing a spoof of a spoof. If you know your Leslie Nielsen or Mel Brooks movies, then it's all too easy to see the jokes coming, from the kooky setup to the incongruous, ego-deflating finish. Yes, it's funny how so much of the fantasy genre is inherently pompous, but making fun of the pomposity gets tired after a while. Even the characters fall flat, descending into the stereotypes they're supposed to be parodying. And the anime references are so forced that they end up as cheap gimmicks more than anything else—okay, so now that we know who would win in a fight between Edward Elric and Goku, what does it accomplish?

Also feeling flat is the artwork, which—while more accomplished than some of Tokyopop's other original series—goes all the way to the opposite end and comes out overly polished and mechanical. Technology has helped take out any raggedness (Van Von Hunter was a test bed for early releases of Manga Studio software), but the clinically precise lines and tones have also sucked out the heart that goes into hand-drawn work. To its credit, though, the underlying principles are fundamentally sound: character designs are attractive and memorable, drawing from today's mainstream fantasy look, and the rectangular paneling puts clarity above all else. In the rapid-fire world of screwball comedy, getting the joke across is a much higher priority than fancy layouts and visual showmanship.

Straightforward dialogue is the other key factor in the comedy equation. A contemporary tone of voice among all the characters adds a casual irreverence to the story, where even summoning a demon turns out to be a bureaucratic, corporate-world kind of deal. Sometimes even sound effects get into the wordplay: when a dying solider says "Tell my wife I love ... UGH," Van takes it maybe a little too literally. Unfortunately, some characters rely on repetitive catchphrases to get their comic shtick across ("If I were a villain ... but I'm not!"), which waters down the dialogue and keeps it from being snappy as it could be.

The end of the book is padded out with sample pages from an early draft of the series, which should interest other artists as they can see how storylines and sometimes entire characters might be altered along the way to the final product.

For those who have grown tired of the fantasy genre's ridiculous self-importance and constantly recycled clichés, Van Von Hunter is the antidote, attacking these clichés with irreverent fervor. However, in doing so it becomes something of a cliché itself, relying on a predictable comedic approach and putting its characters in overused situations—not to mention that the whole adventure-comedy thing has been done plenty of times before. Come for some quick laughs and a little sword-and-sorcery comfort food, but don't expect much else. After Van has saved the world and all, you can't help but wonder if the adventure couldn't have been more swashbuckling, the humor more acerbic. Then it would have been a truly heroic conquest.

Production Info:
Overall : C
Story : C
Art : C+

+ Rapid-fire, joke-a-minute pacing and a clearly told story.
Predictable style of humor and mechanical-looking artwork.

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