As we’re halfway through this year, we have seen a resurgence of cyberpunk in our pop culture, starting early this year with the Hollywood live-action adaptation of Ghost in the Shell, while we await the upcoming releases of Duncan Jones’ Mute and the much-anticipated (and somewhat worrisome) Blade Runner 2049. As for the literary world, William Gibson – one of the pioneers of the subgenre with his 1984 novel Neuromancer – has made a name for himself in the comics scene, and based on this Image comic by Rick Remender and Sean Gordon Murphy, the world that Tokyo Ghost presents is very William Gibson in which everyone is hackable.
2089. Set in the Isles of Los Angeles, where humanity is constantly plugged into technology that is a thrill-seeking drug to distract themselves from reality, law constables Led Dent and Debbie Decay chase down hacker criminals. Upon failing their last assignment, the two lovers-turned-constables are assigned to the mysterious garden nation of Tokyo, where their love is put to the test as they fight against the toxic addiction they’ve grown up with.
From its first issue, Tokyo Ghost wears its influences proudly as we jump into this tech-heavy dystopia through an ultra-violent chase sequence in which our two heroes pursue the antagonistic hacker Davey Trauma, who commits his crimes as if it’s one big video game. Amidst its setting, where humans are hackable – evoking the ideas of the aforementioned Ghost in the Shell, going all the way back to Masamune Shirow’s source material – it also has an exploitation edge in how it depicts the violent action, which is more in line with Death Race 2000 and Mad Max. However, after all that carnage, the initial issue concludes with what is essentially at this book: a love story.
Very much a Beauty and the Beast romance, you have Debbie Decay who, since at an early age, has seen the horrors of technology in how it has affected her family and how she tries to avoid the toxicity as well as rising up against the oppressors. As for the Beast, you have the boyfriend Led Dent, who has gone through a similar childhood, only to be defeated by the struggles and can only find redemption by consuming the addiction in order to remain strong, much to the dissatisfaction from his partner.
With these relevant sci-fi ideas, we see these characters evolve from childhood to law enforcement to self-discovery in the tech-free land of Tokyo and how their relationship alters throughout the book, with many emotional scenes ranging from tenderness to shock-inducing. When we arrive at the greenery of the Japanese capital, Remender establishes a multi-layered message in terms of how we should be more a part of nature than our tech (which can be preachy at times), but also showing a futuristic Tokyo that is closer to old Japanese culture i.e. a Bushido way of life as oppose to the capitalist nature of today.
One of the biggest pleasures of reading all ten issues, is how each issue presents something new of this world, whether it is the techno chaos of Los Angeles to the Hayao Miyazaki-like fantasy of Tokyo. And in order to show how multi-faceted this future is, comes the best artwork I’ve seen from both Sean Gordon Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth as clearly drawing inspiration from anime and classic Japanese artwork. With action set-pieces that mixes futuristic car porn and samurai hack-and-slash, Murphy’s art is so detailed and how it mashes up genres that is reminiscent of Frank Miller’s Ronin.
Collecting all ten issues, this deluxe edition of Tokyo Ghost has plenty of supplemental material to devour, ranging from variant covers, script pages, the coloring process and character sketches, including my favorite featuring Davey Trauma whose robotic arm was inspired by the Atari 2600, which is just genius.
Throughout these ten issues, Remender and Murphy present a multi-layered sci-fi epic that explores themes of love, loneliness, addiction, sex, ultra-violence and what both nature and technology mean to humanity.