Tokyo Ghost had a lot of potential. It might be Sean Murphy’s best performance as a cartoonist. Unfortunately, Rick Remender fails his concept by falling into laziness.
The influence grid of Tokyo Ghost seems a lot more broad than that of some of his other projects: there’s some Judge Dredd in here, there’s some Transmetropolitan, and, according to the backmatter, some Road Warrior. It’s a story about our increasing reliance on technology will destroy us. It’s a story about corporations. These could all add up to an interesting whole, but Remender cuts Tokyo Ghost off at the knees by falling into patterns.
You can almost break Rick Remender’s writing down to a science (Black, or otherwise): gritty narrative; a guy or a girl who’s going to get out of a thing or save someone; overused invented cursing; a cursed love story; how our way of life will kill us. What Remender adds to that here is, seemingly, a faux-Frank Miller touch in the dialog, as if it wasn’t gritty enough. The last thing he needed was grit on top of grit, and it makes Tokyo Ghost borderline unreadable. But, he steps it up: he also decides to take a swing at being Warren Ellis when the book goes psycho-future, and it’s cringe-worthy.
On the upside, Sean Murphy brought his A-game. Occasionally, he drifts into being a bargain-basement Jim Lee, but this one brought something special out of him. The character designs, in particular, are inspired (as a contrast to Chrononauts, where he was given cool stuff to draw, but not necessarily a lot of creative freedom to make stuff). Where Remender’s dialog strips the characters of personality, Sean Murphy gives them a chance to shine with his artistic flourishes. One thing you can’t take away from Remender is his imagination, and he makes a solid collaborator for Murphy, who, before Tokyo Ghost, hasn’t really has a chance — or perhaps the right inspiration — to show off his character design skills.
Matt Hollingsworth even stepped up his game (inasmuch as one of the best colorists working can do that). The color variation on this book is absolutely nuts and keeps you turning the pages just to see what he’ll do. He’s a perfect fit for Murphy; he knows exactly when to keep Murphy’s looseness and exactly when to brighten it up and make it cleaner. Tokyo Ghost is a masterclass in how to color a comic.
In a different world, Tokyo Ghost would be a must-read. If nothing else, it’s worth flipping through for the art; Sean Murphy is definitely doing something here that he didn’t quite bring to Chrononauts or The Wake. However, Rick Remender’s same-old same-old approach to telling a story is getting, well, too old and too similar. If you’re a fan and you haven’t read Deadly Class, that is Remender at his best and most diverse, and it’s worth your time and attention. Unless you’re just in it for the pictures, Tokyo Ghost is not.