Monday 30 April 2018

Black Lagoon Book 9

"This fucking blows.  I'm done." - Revy

Genuine quote, or subliminal cry for help from me trying to compress it into one post? You decide! OK time to wrap up this over-long arc and wrap up my look at the series so far, I'm probably going to come across a little terse in places because the excessive verbiage is back with a vengeance and even the actions scenes aren't immune.  Check out my conclusion for the reasons why I am not doing Book 10 now, as well as my assessment of the series.  Black Lagoon are a courier outfit of four people operating out of the Thai city of Roanapur made-up of Dutch - the leader, Benny - the tech guy, Rock - the planner and Revy - the muscle.  The "El Baile de la Muerte" [aka The Dance of Death] arc tells the heartwarming story of Roberta, a maid to a Venezuelan family the Lovelaces.  When her master, Diego was killed by a bomb at a left-wing political rally he was attending his son was left orphaned and also now the family head.  His death triggered Roberta's past as an assassin, guerilla fighter and plain ol'murderer.  She disappears and discovers the truth, that the bomb was planted by a group of US soldiers working for the NSA.  The soldiers are in Roanapur on a mission to take out a high status Triad associate hence local Triad leader Chang having an interest in them and getting them out of the city as soon as possible.  Meanwhile Garcia has hired Rock and Revy to help try and save Roberta, with him bringing along another martial arts gun shooty maid he luckily had on the staff, a teenage girl called Fabiola.  Unfortunately it might be too late for Roberta, she's suffered a total psychotic break.  She flushed out the US soldiers with men she bought via a third party, and the Colombian's also have Roberta as a person of interest so their army attacked at the same time.  During the gun battle between the various parties Revy, Fabiola and three mercenaries they hired try and reach Roberta before she is hurt, but Garcia gets separated from them and finds her but ends up seeing her beat a man to death and he falls into a traumatised state.  When Roberta sees him she decides that he is just another hallucination and points her gun at him as he lies there... And now the conclusion.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]

We begin with Revy, Fabiola and the three mercenaries (Shenhua, Sawyer and Lotton) still in the middle of a raging battle. "Hey bitch" says Shenhua to Revy, "smell of blood getting stronger.  Better to be careful". Revy says that the "hound" in Roberta has got control. Revy goes on to say they'll probably need to severely injure her to subdue her, when Fabiola objects and asks what about Garcia, Revy says that she needs to wake up "I doubt she could tell the difference between the young master and a cactus right now."

She yells a warning to to Shenhua as Roberta crashes down in front of them.  She dodges Shenhua's blades, breaks Sawyer's chainsaw and unloads her foot into Lotton's dick.  Fabiola tries to reason with her, but Roberta just dreamily asks her if she's done cleaning up the living room, because the master is looking for his paper.  As the injured mercenaries look on, Fabiola falls to her kees and they all watch Roberta walk away.  Revy asks the distressed Fabiola what Roberta said to her?
Garcia wakes up to find himself being carried by one of the American soldiers who killed his dad.  They reassure him that "we're on your side!"  They get to a relatively quiet area and the major introduces himself as Shane Caxton.  He says they found Garcia and they'll proect him until they reach safe location.  As he tells Garcia his outfit is the second strongest in the US (first strongest is the quartermaster corp), Garcia realises these are the men Roberta has been hunting.

They fuss round him offering him water and asking him where he is from.  Garcia mumbles and they decide he must be in shock right now. Garcia slaps the proffered water away.  A man called Sanchez speaks in Spanish to him and tries to joke around ending by saying "we're the good guys, okay? So trust us."  All Garcia can think right now is "why?"

But you can't keep away from Roberta for long and she's back on their heels.  She is chasing a different team of them from who have Garcia with them.  They call the Alpha team in a bit of a panic as they can't lose her and their diversions haven't worked.  Caxton gives them orders to keep evading her and not try and take her down, "that's not our objective!"  They discuss who they think she is and while they are distracted, Garcia notes a handgun lying on the floor. He picks it up and points it at the soldiers yelling "you... you... If you people hadn't... If you hadn't"

He fires but he doesn't hit anyone as Ray tackles him to the ground and his shot goes wide.  Sanchez points his gun at Garcia but Caxton yells at him to put his gun down. Caxton says to Garcia that he didn't get here by accident, "what are you?"  He screams at them that they are the ones who ruined his and Roberta's lives.  They don't even know the people whose lives they destroyed and tells them what they did.  They are shocked and uncomfortable to come face-to-face with a consequence of their actions.  Caxton speaks honestly to Garcia:

Caxton: "Kid.  There's no way I can apologise to you.  Whether that operation was right or not is not up to me to decide.  But, I won't make any excuses for what happened between us.  You have the right of revenge."

He tells Garcia it's unfortunate this mission did this to him while having a brief Vietnam flashback, he says what happened was complicated and "involves nations and politics" regardless he was the one who killed Garcia's family and hands him his gun.  He tells Garcia he's a man and can make up his own mind, "revenge is a valid motive".
We then get a flashback to Garcia and his father discussing one of those "Magic Eye" pictures that were everywhere in the early 90's.  Garcia says he can't see the fourth thing in the picture but his father's advice to look at it from the front and back allows him to see it at last.  Garcia says he can't understand why he didn't see it before and his father says it's because he looked at it with bias.  He must look at things from every angle, "so you have to think hard and decide for yourself".  Garcia reaches for the gun.
Garcia is offered a choice.
Ray shouts "Shane!! No!!"  But Caxton tells Ray he must take over the operation.  The rest of the soldiers pull their guns saying they can't follow that order.  If Garcia fires, "according to the rules of engagement, he's a threat!"  But Caxton again tells them to lower their guns. As Garcia stands and thinks, someone calls in on the radio.  She tells "Grey Fox" that "the Hound is approaching", and their diversion has failed.  It's Balalaika, although she doesn't tell him who she is.

Then we cut to Dutch and Benny. Rock is talking on the phone to Benny, he tells Rock as a co-worker he likes him and he'd hate to see him go.  Then he hands the phone to Dutch and tells him to "go easy on him."  Rock apologises to Dutch who says that doesn't cut it.  They verbally spar for a bit, then Rock says his role is to get the problems out of town "at the very last moment."  Dutch wonders how that changes things.  Rock says if they can get these problems out of town the other problem will leave too, "and that's when our one and only lucky charm comes in handy for us."

Dutch: "How'd we get caught up in this Rock?  It always comes down to this...once again we end up with a huge problem on our hands."

Rock says that they are just a part of this shady town.  Dutch says he isn't sure, he takes pride in being a free man.  So Rock grins to himself and says to look at it another way, of the current ordeal "we're the only ones who get to have any fun".  This leaves both Dutch and Benny briefly making wtf faces.  Dutch says he knows that only the "suicidal and the adventurers.  Which one are you?"  Rock says maybe he'd like to put a bet on that. Dutch hangs up saying it isn't only Roberta who needs a shrink.
Someone's feeling perky.
Meanwhile Balalaika is offering the US soldiers a chance to work together in a typically gloomy Russian way.  Her and her men are an "army of ghosts wandering the wasteland... unable to die or come back to life."  She says she needs an answer right now as "she's above you!"  And Roberta crashes through a high window firing on them, as the bullets fly Caxton has his gun shot out of his hand.  Roberta finally gives a reason why she's been harrying them but not killing them which she could easily do.  She wants to pursue them further into the jungle and have them give her a good chase.

She backs off and Garcia tells them not to shoot her, "she's the side of me that chose revenge.  The one you people... broke!"  Caxton says that revenge is between Garcia and him, he's not planning on getting killed by anyone else.  He gives Garcia the gun and tells Sanchez and Horner to take Garcia with them to the alley.  Roberta spots him and once again looks dreamy, she says when she is done with the hunt she'll make some tea. Garcia says to Caxton to please take care of her.

And we rejoin Revy, Fabiola and the mercenaries.  Revy is vexed at the amount of time they lost, Shenhua noting the movement of the various factions out of a window says that everyone is heading for an intersection at Ransap.  She asks Lotton how badly she hurt him but he says he was expecting her to do something like that and drops a sports cup with a huge dent in it in front of them, "Oh.  That's what you were fiddling with" says Revy.

Fabiola spots Hotel Moscow (the Russian mafia in Roanapur led by Balalaika and made up of Afghan war vets) going into action.  They open fire on Roberta and pin her down in the alley and the US soldiers manage to escape her again.  But she's an individual and they are a squad so Roberta manages to evade, so they move to contain her with caution.  Shenhua takes issue with finding out Hotel Moscow are involved, it's serious now does Revy understand that?

Revy: "How the fuck was I supposed to know.  You stupid cunt!!  If I knew I woudn't be running my ass off with you morons!"

Shenhua and Revy are about to start another of their nuclear level rows when Sawyer, much to Revy's bewilderment, tickles her.  But it distracts them from fighting each other and they spot Garcia with the two US soldiers.  They get ready to take the soldiers out.
Revy One-Hand for a while now.
Revy tells the others they'll attack on three, but before she finishes the countdown her pistol is shot out of her hand alerting the US soldiers.  Someone tosses a radio down to her and it was a sniper shot from one of Hotel Moscow.  Balalaika says over the radio that the war belongs to them.  They are not to spoil that battle and she's only talking to her now because she knows her, next time she won't hesitate to cut her head off.  She ends the call.

Revy regards the radio with blood still streaming out of her damanged hand.  Then she hurls it away and unleashes a stream of frutstrated invective aimed at the Russian woman.  Shenhua actually manages to put some sense into Revy's head when she tells her only "people in wuxia stories fight somebody they know stronger than them" when Revy seems to be heading for confrontation with Balalaika.  She says the hole she has in her leg right now cannot compare with a hole in the head "but if I no stop you.  if you want to die, die alone."  This leads to Revy letting even more of her frustration out on some bins while cursing up a storm. 

Fabiola then steps in and says that the matter they agreed on is over now and payment will be made through their bank. Revy demands to know what she is going to do?  Fabiola says nothing, "it's all over now.  That is all." Shenhua also says it is over, "we always lose more than we gain when we work with you bitch."  Revy finally smokes a ciggie and says fuck if she knows what will happen to Roberta, "either those soldiers or this town'll take care of her."  And goes into Epic Revy Sulk Mode.  As Fabiola goes towards the still somewhat stunned Garcia, having been left behind at his request by the two soldiers.

Back with Caxton and Team Alpha, he hopes that Garcia has been taken care of and also that they return the Colt he handed to him.  It was his father's who would hate to see it in the hands of some crook. He assesses the fighting skills of Balalaika and her men and says half-admiringly that she hasn't got a lot of men but "she's turned this block into a kill zone." She is experienced so if she is heading them into a trap they are in real trouble. 

Meanwhile the Russian's note that the Americans have reached the intersection and have hooked up with another team. They have Roberta still pinned down in a dead-end alley.  Balalaika says they don't need to escort the Americans anymore. She says that this is not an operation that should end up as "Chang's subcontract" but she calls her soldiers to stand down anyway.

We then join Chang who is told this, thinks it interesting and then shrugs it off. He and his second, Biu, then discuss the man who is the reason the US soldiers are in Roanapur, a man called "Shue Yan" who is a warlord and part of their heroin business in the region. He then says he's had a call from Rock who told him the plan is that the Lagoon Traders will lead the Americans into the "Golden Triangle" and Roberta will clean up what happens next.

Biu asks if Balalaika will keep their pact with them?  He goes on to say that she's a professional soldier and the fact she's conducting things so professioally is what is scares him. Chang just grins and says "who knows? I sure don't".  He says he told her to "dance with him instead of the country bumpkin [the South American cartel]. That's it." He says he looked at the few cards he was dealt and played them. If Balalaika breaks the pact and goes after both Roberta and The Americans it won't matter. They'll duke it out with her like they did in '93.

Chang always keeps his cool.
After that he doesn't care what happens, "let the chips fall where they may.  The world'll keep spinning."  Biu says he finally realises why the Dai Lo "put so much confidence in an ex-cop who let his friends die at the Star Ferry port.  You're crazy, but you've got bigger balls than any of us."  Chang says it's not about balls, he just can enjoy things for what they are. There aren't many cards left on the table and the only thing left now is to flip them over and see what comes up.

We join Balalaika talking to Caxton, she tells him her side have suffered no casualties after he enquires. He says thanks to their help they can return to their original objective and if he knew who she was he'd be happy to put her in for the Silver Star, but she probably doesn't want that.  What does she want?  She tells him "we are not mercenaries.  Honour is our reward."  But she asks if she could have a moment of his time.  He agrees.

Balalaika: "To be quite honest... we would very much like... to exchange fire with you. Ever since the days of rolling round the  red sands of Afghanistan, when we were still alive. This is the battle we have sought.  A battle we've waited and longed for..."

She is aware of Caxton's record and his distinguished soldier and that he and his "courageous men continue to fight for your country with loyalty and bravery."  An honour that cannot be measured with medals, only those who have been on the battlefield are privileged to understand what that means.

Caxton warily thanks her saying he just did his duty to his country and comrades, that's all.  He tells her that she too is the same if the way she commanded the operation tonight is any representation.  She thanks him, then with a look of anguish on her face asks him why after all the things they seem to share "how did we end up... so different from you?"  She goes on to say that the dead always envy the living, "was it our countries? The era?  Was it ideology?" 
Balalaika in uncharistically emotional mode.
Caxton says he doesn't know what she is trying to say. She realises this and dismisses it all as "bullshit and it can all go to hell."  She then tells him that he praised her command earlier, but she was only protecting them to get Roberta out of town.  It was a deal she had made and it's been like walking on razorblades doing it. But she wants him to be afraid of her, that one day they'll come and "trample your country, your cities... even now as renegades, we maintain our strength and discipline... I just want you to remember that."

He asks what happened to her and asks perceptively if she was "medically discharged?"  She says she doesn't blame him for thinking that.  But she discharged on request after the '89 withdrawal from Afghanistan. But she says that is the official reason, actually it she was pushed out for a breach of international law during a cross-border operation, "I saved a child in a refugee camp.  That's all." Caxton goes wide-eyed at this revelation. She then bids him farewell saying the crisis isn't over for him yet, "I pray for your continued fortune in battle and offer you a salute.  Good luck." And she and her men exit the storyline.

Caxton is left knowing what to think, he says that Roanapur is a "chaotic nightmare."  He says this place has the veneer of civilisation, it has laws, ethics and paved highways, "it is state-of-the-art Sodom.  How could a place like this exist for this long." One of his men say that they has been a huge gun-battle but no cops or fire department or resident in the street.  Fve blocks down it's like nothing has happened.  They decide to retreat from the city and await further orders from the NSA.  We spend two pages on the Bearded dude and Pinalo cleaning up the last of the men they hired on Roberta's behalf, then they too are gone from the narrative.

Time to find out what sister Eda, nun in the gunrunning Rip-Off Church and also undercover CIA agent is up to. She, if you recall, wants the NSA soldiers (not actually a thing according to my expert on military matters) dead as the CIA deems their operations as stepping all over their toes and Roberta was a way to get rid of them cleanly. Some local member of the "church" says he set up some "documents, farewell gift and everything else."  He is curious about it but she doesn't let on what she is up to and tells him she'll be gone a while and to look out for Roberta.

Roberta is raging in a hotel room.  The manifestation of her conscience tries to speak to her, but she unloads her gun into him. Then someone comes in and leaves a bottle of booze and an envelope with a note and some documents. She reads the note which says "The hunt is not over. I will tell you where the Fox is".  She starts laughing madly and pours the bottle over her head, then starts eating the bottle saying now she will "tear them to pieces."
Roberta has a drink problem.
Meanwhile we get to nearly a chapter with Ray and Caxton just having a chat as they drive to their safehouse. Thrills! Caxton asks what happened to Garcia and is told that "some girl dressed like a Southern maid took him." Caxton then admits that he feels like tonight he aged a lot.  He says he's over fifty and maybe should have stayed out of the field.  Ray says it's not like Caxton to say that.  Ray then tells him that on an op in Vietnam in '69 was when he realised he wanted to be like Caxton, "a man who always does the right thing."

Caxton says he never forgot the op in question. He was protecting a girl from a village the men he had assumed command of were looting.  The most obnoxious one is called Larkin and he says that Caxton is their leader in name only, the village are Vietcong sympathisers so he should leave them to rape and pillage them. The other men join in saying Caxton should "back the fuck off."

Caxton: "You guys are right.  This kinda thing happens all the time during war. But that's still the logic of a thief.  I should have realised much earlier.  You men... use the war as an excuse to dishonour your country. You're nothing but bandits."

Larkin sneers at him.  But Caxton says he let them kill the villagers but as long as the young girl is still alive he'll be the Lone Ranger and he orders Larkin to draw his gun.  Then shoots him.

Larkin shouts from the ground for the others to kill Caxton and make it look like a KIA. But Ray draws his rifle and shoots Larkin.  Caxton tells Ray he was his "Tonto" that day why did he back him up?  Ray admits his secret shame, he'd been willing to rape the young girl who Larkin had caught.  He didn't want to but he was too afraid, "if I'd isolated myself in a place like that, I would have been fighting alone. Surrounded by enemies."  If Caxton hadn't stepped in he'd have raped the girl along with Larkin "all the while apologizing to her in my head."  But he didn't have to, thanks to Caxton, who "recognised evil and wasn't afraid to stand alone. Even in an immoral wasteland."
Back in Vietnam.
When the fighting was over and Caxton put the girl on a chopper he said to Ray, "do you think we'll ever be free of war?"  Ray said not even after Judgement Day and Caxton agreed saying there will be more wars and more men like Larkin taking advantage so it fell to people like him to stay and at least keep the innocent from harm and fight a war that doesn't dishonour his country.

Ray in the present assures him that he's always avoided sacrificing anything besides his objectives and direct enemies. He's done more than what he's been asked, he even went "above and beyond with that boy."  Caxton says maybe, but what happened with that boy only involves him.  And we join Fabiola having packed for them to leave.  He is standing by the pool gazing at the sky.  Fabiola goes to ask him what's up?  He suddenly dives fully clothed into the water.  She panics and tells him to come out, but he pulls her in with him.   He floats saying it's better with your clothes on. Now a whole chapter of two teenagers in a pond. 

Garcia splashes Fabiola and asks if he surprised her.  He then laughs and asks if she thought he was losing his mind? She babbles in the negative, but Garcia turns serious and asks if she met Roberta. She says she did and that she doesn't think Roberta is coming back to the mansion, "I don't think she even remembers why and for whom she is doing it."  Even if they can force her back things won't go back to the way they used to be.

Garcia says that they no longer have a home to go to.  They all thought if Roberta had her revenge everything would go back to normal, but it was the moment his father was murdered that "everything changed." He then asks her if she believes Roberta came for revenge and Fabiola says Roberta's motives intentions lie elsewhere.  Garcia says he agrees, he believes she wants "atonement".  She decided to blame his father's killers for everything that's happened to her.

Fabiola says that Roberta is very earnest and indiscreet, she thinks coming to terms with murder is "insincere"  Garcia says that Caxton too drew a line between good and evil within himself. Garcia goes on to say that "a solution that solves everything... doesn't exist."  And he's going to save her.  He says he is asking a lot and won't think bad of Fabiola if she returns to Venezuela ahead of him.

Fabiola says that Roberta might stay the way she is, she might get worse, she is probably something that can't be solved.  He agrees but says they can start over with her, without forgetting what happened. By coming here he learned what Roberta fears.  He met the man who killed his father and found out what kind of man he was and what he thought. He's feeling free right now because, "I can't be her saint.  But... I can be her crutch."

Fabiola is impressed, he is going through with it even after seeing how Roberta is.  Even she thought she was done, "no mattered how good natured you seemed to be... in the end I thought you were just aother naive rich kid."  But now she thinks he can handle it.  She says she now remembered why Roberta loved him and his father, "it's not God that saves people at a time like this, it's people.  I almost forgot that in this crazy town." They clasp hands and she says that the people here took advantage of his and Roberta's suffering to make "cunning moves for themselves.  I can't let the Head Matron die in this filthy place." She says they can do it, she knows they can!
Two damp teens make a pact.
So how far along are we? *check book*  Oh, only halfway.  If I was a better, more organised person, I'd have split this into two posts.  But I'm not, so I didn't. Let's power on through.

We join the Black Lagoon, the boat the four members of the company run their business with.  The NSA is paying them to take the American's to Laos so they can finish their objective to capture Shue Yan. Garcia and Fabiola are already aboard. Dutch says they have to protect themselves from Roberta and Revy is in a pissy mood. She is down with Fabiola trying to draw a gun with her injured hand.  The doctor has told her none of that for two weeks.  Then disses Roberta.

Fabiola scolds her, she is studying some English words and tells Revy it's helped her understand some of Revy's "nonsense". Revy notes that post-battle, Fabiola seems different.

Revy: "Nothing wrong with that.  You've come clean.  It happens when you shoot someone."

Revy then says there is something she need to tell her about Garcia before the shooting starts again.   And then we cut to Garcia being told by Rock that the Americans will be coming aboard soon and things will be settled once and for all, "only you can resolve it amicably".  No pressure!

Rock says he failed to end it in town, but as both Roberta and Garcia are still alive, the "game's not over." He  says he won't miss next time, Garcia is the "golden key."  Revy we then hear telling Fabiola that she doesn't think Garcia can save Roberta and actually it's Fabiola who is "the ace in the hole." Fabiola disagrees.  Revy says neither "logic nor love can make sense of all this" only the round hole left by a bullet can solve things.

Fabiola says that the two of them aren't seeing things the same way.   Garcia has changed she says, and Revy grumpily concedes that point.  Fabiola says it's not worth them talking to each other.  Revy say she has a mouth on her, and she shouldn't forget that she comes from the dumps as well and that Garcia won't be able to "squeeze out gold bricks."  Fabiola moves to leave and suddenly and with great speed grabs one of Revy's guns out of its holster and points it at her while Revy points the other one at Fabiola.
Fabiola has opinions.
Fabiola says that she wanted to say there was no difference between the two of them, but she thinks the world is shades of grey for better or worse. She knows why Revy talks badly about Garcia, she can't accept that people like him exist in the world. She can't accept that people in this world would be unselfish enough to risk their life for someone else. Because that would prove to Revy she was wrong about labelling this world a "cesspool."
She says she's seen many people who she thinks are pigs who she'd like to kill many times over but that only fills the cesspool with more shit.  Revy holsters her gun and says to her, "fine.  Live an honest and poor life.  By the time you die in the pigsty, maybe you'll have found heaven." She says that she might find heaven sooner because now she has no reason to save Fabiola's life and she hopes Roberta kills them both.

Fabiola says Revy always laughs with "such contempt" has she seen her face in the mirror?  She tells Revy her laugh is like the skeletons on "El Dia De Los Muertas" (Dance of the Dead).  Revy cackles saying she is surprised Fabiola noticed. She says she comes from the "Dark Depths of the burial tomb, gun in hand." And everyone in this town who dances the same dance will make offerings to the "poor little girl who is about to die far away in Asia".  Fabiola glowers.

They arrive at the pickup point for the Americans.  Dutch greets them, while Benny tells Caxton about the boat.  Benny tells Caxton that Dutch is a Vietnam vet.  Caxton queries Dutch about this saying he looks young.  Dutch says he lied about his age when he enlisted.  They banter a bit about operations their various units did, and Caxton seems to be testing Dutch.  Benny then calls him away while Rock tells Caxton that Garcia wants to speak with him.

Caxton comes to the deck and without a word Garcia hands his pistol back to him. He tells Caxton he hasn't forgiven him, because of Caxton his family was ruined.  Caxton says that is all the more reason to kill him, why hasn't he?

Garcia: "You really are an honourable and high-minded soldier, major. T respect you.  That's not a lie."

All the same Caxton took the same road as Roberta using death and violence to save those who wanted to live.  They are caught in a philosophy of death, even though they fight with pride and virtue they still cause "death and destruction" and repeat it over and over because using violence is the only way he knows to resolve anything.
The dancers of death.
He tells Caxton he saw Roanapur and its violence, everyone is dancing the dance of death there. So he returns the pistol to Caxton saying that using it would mean he is caught in the same dance and "I refuse to join in."  He wants Caxton to suffer the way only a virtuous man can, "like Roberta, whose soul was crushed." 

She's still a killing machine who wants to kill Caxton and his men, but he has come to tear her away from the dance. But he needs the help of the people still dancing.  Caxton says he hasn't ever been on an op this "peculiar" before. But agrees to Garcia's request and takes the pistol from him.  Some time later he goes to his men and says the situation has changed and he wants their opinions.

We then cut to Fabiola and Rock who is getting antsy as he puffs on his cigarettes. He tells Fabiola he knows Garcia is to drag the soldiers into this "but it's not enough. He'll need more traps" to contain Roberta and regain her sanity.  Garcia is standing with Caxton as he puts the new plan to them.  They are going to complete their op and Roberta's prescence will be a big factor. Ray backs him up saying they'll continue to fight for justice, "that's all that matters."

Meanwhile Rock has put a plan to Fabiola, but we don't hear what it is, just her reaction which is to say "no way in hell!" She tells him this isn't some magic trick, one wrong move and someone dies. He asks her if they can get through this without risking anything at all.  He says it has to be her and Garcia on stage "directing things."  He says she knew it would have to be like this, they can eliminate every risk except for chance itself, "and when pure chance is all that's left... it becomes the greatest gamble".

Then we join Eda, she finds Roberta at the airport and tells her she is a bit smelly.  She also said she told the people at the gate to let her through. The Black Lagoon will reach its destination within 36 hours.  She's arraged a car to take her to the buffer zone.

Roberta grabs her and demands to know if she is with them. Eda tells her to knock it off, "shut the fuck up and listen bitch."  She knows she is after the US soldiers and if she shows her teeth to the wrong side she'll lose them.  She knows she's a "whack job" but if she is too crazy for Eda she won't be worth her "charity". Roberta grouchily thanks Eda who says she hopes Roberta enjoys the hunt.
Eda and Roberta. The fanfiction practically writes itself!
The Black Lagoon arrives in the Golden Triangle, a conflict zone between Thailand, Laos and Mayanmar.  Caxton tells the men to disembark, before Caxton leaves he stops and asks Benny if Dutch was really in Vietnam. Dutch didn't know basic G.I. slang and said he was on op that his supposed unit never participated in.  He says Dutch has lied about his background, "there is always some intent behind deception. You're still young.  Look out for yourself."  And with that the soldiers make their move along with Fabiola and Garcia.

Caxton initially refuses, but Garcia says they might be able to pin her down but he is the only one who can stop her. He gives in and tells his squad which has split into several smaller units that the kids will stay with him in the command unit. Garcia tells him that he needs one thing and points at Caxton's pistol.  The Black Lagooners watch them go.  A surly Revy wants to bet on how many make it back.  Rock is jauntily snapping his fingers and asks if Caxton's pistol is now in Garcia's hands.  Benny says he thinks so. Rock says if Garcia has the gun they have two cherries lined up, and Chang has lost.

They move out across the terrain. There is literally tonnes of verbiage now between the various units as they keep on the lookout for Roberta.  And they finally run into her, back in her maid outfit, armed to the teeth.  She's also cleared out the plant and has a bound and gagged Shue Yan with her.

She starts firing on them and they realise she is using a musket and her shots are hitting them through their vests. Now she has decided to kill them and they start falling to her.  Caxton orders everyone to take off their NVGs and prepare for close quarter combat.  She using flechette rounds on them, using the musket and Caxton realises that this means she has to have a few seconds to reload.

Roberta kills a couple more and stands laughing that "your little foxes" are all dying.  She starts rambling about a Colombian vigilante called Decima. Ray gets angry and calls this a "fucking farce".  Elite soldiers being wasted in the jungle by a maid from South America.   He says she's a monster and they can't contain her, he asks Caxton if they should recover the package (Shue Yan) or enter the village, "give us an order!"
Roberta takes out some of the soldiers.
Fabiola points her gun at Caxton saying "you will finish this.  You're the superhero, aren't you?" Another soldier begs for an order saying they can take out Roberta without killing her.  Caxton says to Garcia, "make her stop! Or we'll lose all our men!"  Garcia stands silently as they hear the soldiers lose the target on Roberta and she goes on to kill more.

Garcia: "Just as you value the lives of your men.. Major... I value Roberta's too.  This is my fight.  Against you.  Against me.  Against a world like this."

Caxton speaks through his radio to Roberta who is resting by the bodies of a couple of them she killed.  He says the responsibilty lies soley with him, she should hand Shue Yan over to his men and he'll surrender to her.  He says it's the best course for both of them.  She tells him that erasing people from the world is what's best for her. They will not get away, she won't let them get away with it.

Garcia takes the radio, and tells her to wait for him at the entrance to the village.  She stammers that she will. Garcia then tells Caxton he has a plan, but it's a "shakey one" and he'll need Caxton's help. Fabiola hands the pistol to Garcia and he tells her he'd scared thinking of what could happen to them.  They hug and tells him he can do it.
Garcia and Roberta.  Reunited.
Garcia, Caxton and Fabiola meet Roberta alone at the village entrance.  Roberta says she can't tell if he's real or not. Ever since the bomb that killed Diego Garcia the dead have started speaking to her and she's losing all sense of time.  She can't tell if she is even alive, "I don't know what's going on anymore" she says pathetically. She bows her head then says when this is all over they can return to the mansion.

Garcia says that he can answer her questions and maybe put right her mistakes, but it doesn't matter anymore.  She yells that it does matter and they still have to pay.  He only has to say the word and she'll kill them all. Garcia raises the gun and says it was Caxton who started all this and can also end it.  And he shoots Caxton who falls to the ground unmoving.

She pulls out her own pistol as a reflex, then stutters that Garcia shouldn't have done that she should have. He says no matter who she kills she cannot atone for her sins, "it doesn't end anything.  Everything's already over." She shouts that he can't be the young master because he would never say something like that.  He raises the gun and points it at her.

He tells her he's been wonder what he'd say to her when he finally met her again. He says if she trusts him, his bullet won't kill her and she should look at Caxton and realise it's over.  But Roberta's bad self is egging her on, saying the dance of death never ends.  He fires.  She fires.

Garcia: "See?  You're alive."

And he gives her a passionate kiss and she crumples to the ground with him on top of her.  He says it took him so long to realise something so simple. Then we see he has a wound to his right abdomen and he slumps to the ground by Roberta.
Umm.. maybe he's older than he looks?
Fabiola brings Caxton round who mumbles he really felt like he was shot, he could feel an impact.  She tells him to snap out of it and help Garcia.  Roberta rises in anger to see Caxton still alive, but Fabiola points her gun at her and tells her he is alive for the same reason she is.

Garcia clasps Roberta's hands saying Caxton died when he shot him.  She died and so did he, "we're all dead now."  Now they are all dead the dance can come to an end. He'll bear Roberta's sins with her, he came there to tell her that. She holds him and says he's grown up so much. He quietly says he stood on his toes to reach her and she lays him out on the ground.

Caxton checks him out and says the wound has grazed his liver and exited. He stopped the bleeding but it could still get infected. There are troops moving towards their position, Caxton says they are abandoning the op and regrouping at the Black Lagoon. Suddenly Ray points his rifle at Roberta and tells Caxton to step away.

Caxton tells him to put it down, this is over. Ray says he can't be like him, but he can't bury the memories of all the men she killed her tonight, "I can't figure it out.  Whose fault was it? Who's to blame?" Caxton shoots Ray while Garcia looks on sadly saying "the killing never stops." And they all went home for lemon... I mean they return to the Black Lagoon.

There is a cheery Rock who says "I'm really happy I had a hand in saving you all."  Fabiola scowls then points her pistol at him and fires.  He is knocked on his arse, the gun was full of blanks.

Fabiola: "Oh yeah.  We were so lucky. So were you. How does it feel to bet your life?"

Rock stutters that he really wanted to help them. Revy just sneers that these guys need a reason to kill someone. Fabiola says that they will never see each other again and he and that one day even God will be sick of their "silly games."  So until then, Rock and the others can dance their waltz in "this foul city".
Ooh, feel that burn Rock.
The epilogue has Rock going to meet Chang on the pier. Chang tosses him a bag full of money saying it was payment for the matter in hand.  Rock says he didn't do it for the money. Chang says call it proof that it's over, but what he does with it is up to Rock.

Chang puffs on his ciggy and says that what happened was "heavy".  Rock asks if he really is the "crook" Fabiola called him out as?  Chang says whatever the motive there's only one outcome.  Maybe Rock wanted the experience of a big gamble that would fry his brain.  Or maybe he wanted to save the boy from an awful situation. Rock says he really wanted to save them.

Chang asks if he honestly believes he did?   Does he think they found happiness?  All that's waiting for them is a thorny path, "doing what's right.. doesn't necessarily lead to a happy ending". They have a long life ahead of them, maybe too long.  If he wants to take time out to find out "what's beyond good and evil that's not such a bad thing Rock." He then invites Rock for a drink and they can raise a glass to Garcia, Roberat and Fabiola "standing in their thorny South American wasteland".  Finally the end.

So there we are. There is some potential great stuff around innocence and war, the responsibilty of causing death in the field, PTSD, guilt, teenagers forced into military situations and the need for atonement.  And if you want to read that in manga format, read Full Metal Alchemist instead, it might be twenty-seven volumes but it is so well written it passes by much faster than this did.  I think Rei Hiroe as an artist is incredibly talented, great at action scenes, doesn't suffer from "sameface" issues and can create lots of interesting characters.  But as a writer he's much better suited to the shorter, punchier arcs of the early volumes.  His story felt very much like it got away from him here.  There was all that set-up with Balalaika versus Chang in volume 7 that went absolutely nowhere (although he promised in the book's afterword he'd pick it up again, we'll see).  Pinalo and the bearded man go unexplained at least for now.  And too much important stuff happens off panel, most annoyingly with the non-resolution of book 8's cliffhanger.  There is some attempt to reflect in both writing and art, Chang's grinning and attitude in Rock, but I still feel like I missed a whole arc of character development for Rock to make this feel more natural that he'd suddenly be seeing this as a fun gamble not a something he feels morally obliged to intervene in. I think it's supposed to be that he's finally become a part of the city, just as corrupt and self-serving who did it basically for kicks but why he such a shithead about it?  That at least doesn't fit with how Rock has been portrayed even in the arc immediately preceeding it.  I mean he did deserve his "The Reason You Suck" speech from Fabiola for having such a shitty attitude about it, but I am not sure he'd have been as clumsy in patting himself on the back for it in front of some obviously traumatised people.  I dunno, rubbed me the wrong way it did.  Also it's a bit frustrating that in a book called Black Lagoon we spend very little time here with the actual Black Lagoon crew.  Dutch and Benny are already sidelined enough as it is, and in this volume even Rock and Revy hardly share a chapter's worth of appearences between them.  So we got yet more lengthy speeches filling in tonnes of backstory for people who are only temporary players in the larger series.  Oh well.  Now, I said at the start I was going to do all ten volumes, but then I realised that volume 10 only collects the first part of another lengthy arc.  Seemed a bit silly to sign off like that when this ends in a neater fashion.  When volume 11 comes out (or even if there are more!) I shall revisit the series here.  It also makes for a good cutting off point because after this arc the series went on an unplanned hiatus for five years.  If you're looking for reasons, the afterword provides one. "I'm tired" writes Rei Hiroe and I think the length of the series, which he admits was unplanned, just burned him out.  I won't spoil what his return to the series is like, you'll have to wait the three of you still reading who care.  If you're more casually interested in the series, it had a two-seaso anime adaptation that is actually pretty faithful to the arcs it adapts, this arc is not one of them, it concludes with the Japan arc of several volumes ago.  Anyway, back to the usual US and UK comics in May. Enjoy!

Wednesday 25 April 2018

Black Lagoon Book 8

"A life lived idly is like living like a dog" - Balalaika

If you have got this far you don't need the full background of The Black Lagoon Traders and the crime-ridden Thai city of Roanapur they work out of.  This contines the epic "El Baile de la Muerte" [aka The Dance of Death] arc. Revy and Rock, the self-defined bullet and gun pairing, she because she is atheletic, strong and experienced with pretty much every gun there is and he because of his ability to think on his feet, make deals and come up with crazy plans.  Together they get shit done and this time it is tracking down Roberta, a Venezuelan ex-guerrilla and terrorist and also a prim maid whose employer was blown up attending a leftist political rally by the US government organisation the NSA.  This was unsanctioned by the CIA and their operative, Eda, a nun in Roanapur's Rip-Off Church makes it clear they are pissed that this happened.  Roberta tracked the men to Ronanapur where they are on more "business", leaving a trail of bodies behind her.  The young son of her murdered master, Garcia who loves her and a young maid in his service who also has combat experience have hired Rock and Revy to help find her safely as her presence and the identity of the men she is after have caused consternation amongst the major crimelords in the city, most of all Chang, leader of the Triad who has been making most of the moves to help find her.  Roberta however is a mental wreck, popping pills and being scolded by a man only she can see about this being a mission of pure revenge not atonement as she has tried to convince herself.  The last volume ended Rock and Revy getting a new lead on where she is and with Roberta symbolically divesting herself of her maid uniform and donning the garb of a revolutionary killer.  And now the continuation.

[Note:  This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]

We begin with Chang, alone, walking to the Rip-Off Church. Inside is Eda in CIA mode, She tells him to go into the confessional booth, then calls him on his mobile phone. She says she'll start with the conclusion.

Eda: "We are extremely displeased with the NSA's plans in the region. Therefore we're going to disclose all the intelligence we have on them and give you a general ouline of their operation."

Chang wants to know who their primary assassination target is.   He'll only decide what they'll do once they know that.  Eda says they are an experimental team under the direct command of the NSA principally for political destabilisation operations, "tactical missions which required difficult political choices." They are called the "Grey Fox Commando Group".

Their primary onjective right now is capturing General Shue Yan. The General of the Triad's largest armed factions under Shun Ka's command.  And they want to try him in Federal Court.    It would be a painful blow to the Triad continues Eda, you can't speak of the Triad's heroin factories without his poppy farms. Chang asks her when this is going down?  Shue Yan is constantly on the move making it hard to capture him says Eda.
Eda and Chang talk business.
But he is scheduled to inspect four villages with two companies of troops and his lieutenants. It'll take place sometime later in the month.  Chang says he'll have to "shake out his informers". Eda says the members of Grey Fox are disguised as backpackers in Roanapur's red lght district waiting for the go-ahead from the NSA.  In the jungle Chang's forces wouldn't stand a chance against them. Chang asks where the motels are.

Eda tells him the group is split into three groups, Alpha, Bravo and Charlie. She lists which hotels which group is staying in, the team leader Major Caxton is hiding out with his Lieutenant Raymond McDougall at Alpha teams hotel.  Chang says that's enough information "Miss CIA" and he'll contact her when it's all over.   She says they aren't done yet she wants to know about his plans. When he is unresponsive, she says it is his organisation's job to carry this out and he shouldn't forget that.  Chang responds:

Chang: "The only reason... we're lending a hand in this lovers' quarrel between you bureacrats is... because we have a mutual interest. We're not your dogs or your apprentices. If one of Uncle Sam's ass-kissers like you... thinks she can boss us around.. you're dead wrong".

Eda laughs.  She says he isn't an ass-kisser, she tells him the USA is like a hydra, "a country with numerous heads... called agencies."  The agencies are the USA and threats against them by powers greater than Changs are not effective.  His people might possess the power to subdue individuals or corporations, "but we possess the power to subdue and annihilate entire countrys".  They are "The one... the only..and the supreme. So don't ever underestimate my company. Punk" she tells him, eding the call and Chang leaves.

We join Rock, Revy, Garcia and Fabiola finishing up at the gun store and then heading off to find a man called Leeroy who might have a clue to Roberta's whereabouts.   Revy asks Garcia "how long she's been using?"  He says he knew she was taking medication, but... he is cut off by Revy and Rock discusing Leroy. Then Fabiola admits to Garcia that she had been asked to keep quiet about Roberta's "medication" but she didn't realise she would now be taking it in such large doses.  Maybe she's already dabbling in speed says Revy, "it's the best way to cool offf when blood is on your hands".  Garcia is distressed.

Revy says if she keeps it up she'll end up as paranoid as Ton Chi.  Garcia suddenly shouts, "Why... W... WHY?! Haven't we caught her yet?!"  He says they are running out of time, soon Roberta won't be able to help herself for much longer.  Fabiola tells him to calm down. He yells that she's not her family.

Rock stops the car and tells Garcia they have everything they need to end this peacably.  Garcia is the centre of all this and all he is doing is crying and screaming, "Revy and I can't catch her. Only you can" he says to Garcia.   He can't afford to mess this up.  Garcia repeats his words.  Then Rock says to Revy that Leroy's office is nearby, "that's the last stop.  Our little tour... ends here."

Back in Roanapur, Chang and leader of the Russian Mafia Balalaika are meeting on the docks.   She says to him that "our involvement... shouldn't be something you wish for."  Why does Chang want her help?  Why has he told her everything?  "What's your real motive?" she asks suspiciously.
Chang and Balalaika plot.
He tells her Roberta will catch the Grey Fox tonight and settle her scores right here, "that will result in a critical blow to our town."  Roanapur will fall like a house of cards so there is only one route for him to take.  They have to prevent that conflict and get the Americans out of the city.  After that they can leave Roberta to take care of them.

Chang: "She gets revenge for her boss.  Nobody's hands get dirty.  Nobody's wallets get lighter. Everything... works out just fine."

Balalaika snorts that he came here to tell her that?   She declines, they will "proceed with our initial plan."  Chang says she wants to die as a soldier does she?   She says a mobster like him wouldn't understand, they are not soldiers anymore or deserters, they are ex-military and don't belong to anyone.  When the Soviet Union abandoned them, when the New Russia betrayed them, when they lost everything what were they left with?

They had "tasted life and death and everything there is to know about fighting for a flag. The pride. We're the vestiges of a kind of pride that's become and old, mouldy tombstone."  She says she doesn't want to live a life wthout a future like Chang, there us only one death she wishes for, one in battle against those we were meant to fight.  She ends by saying "reminded of what we were more is the end we seek, Mr. Chang."

Chang says she is being stupid.   He says living by a code is a "stupid notion", it's whimsical and can changed when the wind blows.  If you dwell on it, it means you can't do anything besides that.  She can interpret that how she likes.  He decides they are done here and starts to leave.  He says it's still stupid but he'll go along with her.

He says November '93 he took four bullets on this dock, she owes him for that.  It was a beautiful moonlight nightm the number that night was "it's a blue world."   It was the perfect evening for a bullet ballet  One of them was supposed to rise from the dirt and say goodbye that night, "but we're both here" says Chang. As she leaves she says to him:

Balalaika: "Which ending will you choose?  You only have one life.  You can't choose both."

We see an explosion at a hotel, then we cut to the Colombians, the leader of the cartel in Roanapur a man called Abrego is being given orders from his boss a man called El Jefe.  Abrego is told not to touch the Americans and not to let the Chinese get involved either, he is simply to "bring that bitch's head to me."

The FARC have sent over some of their elite "Sumasas brigade" and their leader Alberto Camarasa is an advisor and a member of Cuba's Naval Special Forces.  They are itching to put an end to Roberta but El Jefe also says "you can't let those guys know anything about the Americans."

El Jefe: "If this turns into a melee, we gotta consider the possibility of them taking matters into their own hands... and that would be the end of my vision for an ideal business here.  If there is any chance of that happening... make sure you see to it that there are no loose ends."

That's Abrego's real job and he promises not to let El Jefe down.  We then join Revy as she enters the office of Leroy.  Revy tells him that his office is a mess and he should hire a maid.  After some more banter he finally says he knows she is looking for that "crazy Venezuelan maid right?  The bloodhound of death?"  Revy asks why the change in attitude when he wonders what she wants to ask him?  He yells that she "bailed before she paid me half of what she promised!!"
Grey Fox make preparations to escape.
We then join Major Caxton and Ray his men getting tooled up after realising something is wrong, "I don't know who... but someone's trying to sabotage our plans." The phones are being tapped and there are signs that their drop point has been compromised.  But one of the local NSA arrives and passes on sealed orders to the Major who says their mission must continue with the locations updated.

Two of them come back from their recon, they report that a street has been blocked off but that there is no sign of construction.  All the construction workers had bulges under their left arms.  Also all the roadside stands have disappeared, "residents of towns like this know when danger's in the air."  They spotted nine lookouts and four tails and they had a hunch there was a sniper in position too.  They are surrounded and the unknowns are waiting to see how they move.  The decide to send a standby order to their other safehouses and then flank them when their main unit moves and take them out.  The Major sends the man who delivered the orders away saying he better get out of here "before bullets start flying."

Watching the man leave are a bearded man and a chubby woman.  The chubby woman asks if they should take him out, but is told he isn't part of the package.  The bearded man says their client wants them to be a shield. He goes onto say they that the clients will use their own "spears" and have their own reasons for not wanting others to do it.   Which is why he hasn't sent any of his own men in.  The guys gathered below are "just some scraps I threw together."  The chubby woman says he couldn't get any intel on the target but understands they are the equivalent of Delta Force, "the whole entry team is gonna get wasted."
New challengers approach!
The bearded man calls her "Pilano" saying that is just how it goes.  They need them to put up some sort of fight which is why it is not easy choosing a man for a job like that.  They planned for their forces to go in, but not for them going out, "they'll realise too late."  And they'll end up dying in a place like this.  Pilano gets out a portable TV and starts watching it to kill time before it goes down.

We then return to Revy, now in a car with Rock, Garcia and Fabiola. They are speeding to a flophouse called the Tokaina Hotel.  Revy tells Garcia to be patient, they have to deal with another problem "the Black Death". Rock says he has never heard of him, Revy says he runs a murder-for-hire business.  According to Leroy, some of his men are providing support for Roberta.

She gets Rock to stop the car, she tells him that "this is gonna get ugly and we can't handle it alone."  Rock asks if she has a lead and Revy says you bet she does and calls... Shenhua?!  Revy tells her she has a whole bunch of people for her to kill, Shenhua demands to know how she got her number?  Revy says Chang gave it to her.  Shenhua says she was in hospital up until two weeks ago after Revy got her shot, "but if job is to cut you up, I do it for free."

Revy says it wasn't her who shot her, it was the nun (Eda) and not to lay that shit on her and also she hit Revy with her knives.  Shenhua asks if she is hiring her, Revy says actually it's a rich South American (Garcia).  Shenhua says she won't do anything against "great brother Chang." They talk money and Shenhua rejects the first offer of six thousand dollars.  She haggles up to 7,500 for herself and 6,500 each for her two friends who are sitting playing on a Playstation.  Revy says to come to where they are in ten minutes.

Meanwhile the bearded man and Pilano order the men below into action against the Americans, while a group of Colombians move against Roberta who are filled in on her terrorist background, "do not underestimate her just because she is a woman." That she was once known as the "Bloodhound of Florencia".  She knows every trick in the book and "can pull them off far better than you."  She is a carnivora in human form and they must not forget that.

Roberta meanwhile is being tormented by the bloodstained man who is representing her conscience. He tells her there is still time to pull back, that the Roberta Garcia loves so much will be unable to return to the Lovelace family.  "You'll be just a blood-crazed mad dog haunted by delusion" he tells her. He goes on to say that her dead master feared she would be trapped in a purgatory of bloodshed as much as he worried about his son and no one requires revenge from her. Roberta yells in anger:

Roberta: "Sins can only be atoned for in blood!  There is no other way!  That's why... I'll kill and kill and kill.  I'll make them regret they were ever born!"

Back with the Americans, all the teams are in position.  Caxton gives them a morale boosting speech, finishing with him saying "let's show them how the best soldiers fight".

We then join the men Leroy hired on Roberta's behalf, they have been told they are after renegade gangsters from the countryside, "Leroy's info's always solid.  He's never wrong."  They are being watched by the Colombians who are after Roberta.  They are told not to engage, "we can't lose her by getting involved in any unnecessary skirmishes."  There target is her and only her.

The men who have been sent to take on the American's breach their hotel door and there is a huge explosion and gunfire breaks out.  Things blow up, people are riddles with bullets in the chaos while the man with the beard and Pilano look on. The Americans take down the first and second wave of attackers. As the men back off they tell their leader the men aren't gangsters "those were raptors crammed in a hen house!" 
Roberta and her tastefully understated mutherfuckin' anti-material rifle.
The leader says if they all flee now the others would have died for nothing.  Pilano, watching through binoculars, says the targets have decided to go to the roof so they aren't fighting at close quarters.  Then Roberta appears on a roof across the street, the Colombians spot her too. The second team is ordered to move in.  The Americans also spot her and her huge rifle which she fires at them.   There is more chaotic fighting as the Colombians move in as well.

Nearby, Revy says they are too late and a "full on classic firefight" is taking place.  Fabiola says that means Roberta is still alive. Rock says to himself that nothing will change if they walk away, "this is the divide.. Dutch kept telling me about.  This is where you make your choice."  He says to Garcia that it's up to him, they'll see it through if he wants them too. Garcia says if Roberta is waiting he has to find her. Shenhua says "that's the spirit of outlaw. You want to be my child?"

Revy tells Rock to stay and contact the boat.  The place the firefight is taking place is hell's cauldron.  They're going through a wall of spears to meet up with Roberta. Shenhua says this is child's play.  Revy says she hopes so, but Roberta has got a few screws loose, "she's a killing machine even Rambo would run away from with his ass on fire."  And most importantly she's fucking pissed right now!

Shenhua shrus saying that just makes her a worthy opponent, "make me even happier".  Revy tells her they can't kill her, only the flies buzzing round her.  Revy makes sure Shenhua's companions also understand this, one being the woman who has to speak though a vocal device, called Sawyer and the other a posing male assassin called Lotton both met in a previous arc (book six).  With everyone ready and clear on what needs to be done, they move out.

On the roof the Americans are under heavy fire from Roberta, she is using a Barrett and grenades on them. The weapon can reach past their rally point so the need a new plan.  The Major says to ready a smoke grenade and they'll move in her blind spots.  Revy and the others are moving into position.  Revy tells Fabiola that this won't be like the bar, she says that her choice of a shotgun shows she doesn't have control to pull off a single-shot kill.  And that when the shooting was over, Fabiola's knees went weak. Fabiola scowls at her, but Revy says she won't hold it against her.

Revy: "These guys blasting their guns here only think of you as a city limits sign.  Something to take a few potshots as when you're driving shit-faced."

The men are lowlives and there is a trick to killing them.  Think of them and also themselves as roadsigns that walk and talk.  Fabiola starts saying that people are people, Revy tells her it's not about her values, it's a frame of mind.

Revy tells her that the men are scum and not to be afraid to pump a few rounds into them. "Make them dance a bloody twist of fear, baby" she says.   If she makes it through she'll be a full fledged gunslinger.  Fabiola asks if she thinks that because she is from the barrio?  Revy says Fabiola's upbringing is like hers, "I'm just dropping some knowledge on you."  Fabiola says quietly that she thinks Revy has the wrong idea.
Revy and Shenhua get stuck in.
The Colombians send some men in to enter through the front and back.  Revy orders a couple of them to take the back while she takes the front.  Revy then blasts a Colombian's head almost off and she and Shenhua then leap forwards, Revy ordering Shenhua to mow them down. Knives and bullets fly as Revy and Shenhua push their way through.  Meanwhile a crazed Roberta is still unloading in the direction of the Americans. 

The Colombians have reached the roof, they are ordered to drive her northeast if her firepower is overwhelming.  One of the Colombians fires at her with a pistol, she fires back with her huge rifle tearing two Colombians to pieces.  She keeps firing and takes out some more. They try to falls back and she just blasts them to little bits as she uses a telescopic pole to vault over to the other side of the street. The remaining Colombians say she had no reason to flee them and that she is after something.  She is chasing a group in front of her, so they decide to go after them as well.   The leader says he knew the cartel was keeping something from them and to contact Abrego.  Rock watches the carnage from his car.

Then Rock's mobile phone rings, it's Chang.  He tells Rock he was too late, "I can see from here. The bet's off."  He says they'll take over handling it for now and they should withdraw as Dutch is probably angry by now.  Rock says no, the curtain hasn't fallen yet so they can't exit the stage.  The actors are still in play, Garcia and Roberta. Chang tells Rock what he hates most in the world is hypocrisy:

Chang: "it's even worse than commiting crimes. It's a poison that deceives not only yourself but others too.  It's like a turd dumped in a bucket of Chanel.  It may smell like a rose... but that doesn't change the fact it's still a piece of shit."

He tells Rock that he knows he understands that, that Roberta and Garcia are pawns to him and Chang.  Rock said he could checkmate the king so Chang put his money on him.  But that failed so he has the next move prepared, so what need is there to "grieve over the boy and the lady?" 

Angrily Rock says he was wrong about Chang, "you're nothing but a worthless, cold-blooded bastard!"  Chang bellows with laughter at this accusation saying no one has spoken like that to him in years.  He tells Rock he's a piece of work "that's what I like about you".  He then tells Rock that maybe his understanding of justice is deeper than Rock and that Rock should seriously consider how well-intentioned he is.

Rock says he's a gangster, how can he talk to him about justice?  Chang says that he can because he was once a guardian of the law.  Rock is speechless. Chang says it's no big deal, "there're a lot of ex's in this town.  That's all there is to it."  He says he thought that would make him more convincing, Rock can keep holding on but there is nothing at the end of this.  He needs to accept it's someone else's business.  The Lovelace family have stepped off the stage, this is now Roanapur's problem.

Rock tells Chang he won't let him end it, Roberta and Garcia are both still alive "it's up to them to decide when they want out."  Chang says no, it's his decision, he acts with the town's survival as priority.  He doesn't think Rock can turn this dice game around, but he can continue the game and do as he pleases as long as he doesn't intefere with what Chang is doing and also he wants Rock to "prove you're not spineless."  As he signs off he tells Rock to remember what he told him, "misinterpret that and it'll end in tragedy for both of us."  He looks forwards to Rock's next move. End of call.

We join Revy, Shenhua and Fabiola who have taken down fourteen men.  Revy is confused by the sudden withdrawal of some of the men, they'll have to ask one of the survivors.  They hunt around for one that is still breathing. They find one just about alive and in halting Spanish Revy demands he talk.  Fabiola then sighs and takes over translating duties.  She tells the man to tell him why they want Roberta and they'll take him to a hospital if he tells them.
Time for another of Revy's uplifting "lessons".
He says that Roberta is chasing someone, his commander sent a squad after her.  She went into the building across the street, and is heading towards the intersection west.  Fabiola passes all this on to Revy.  Who then shoots the man dead to Fabiola's shocked surprise.  They join Garcia and Rock but then Fabiola points her gun at Revy who just notes it with distinterest.

She yells at Revy saying that the fight was over so why did she kill that man?  Revy says the "fight's not over till they're dead. You leave 'em half dead and I promise you'll have to take them on again".  Isn't barrio life like that.  She admits it is, but the fact he was dying and begging to be saved has shook her up.

Fabiola: "That wasn't self-defence.  What you did was aniquilacion! [annihilation]"

Revy says "speak English kid."  Garcia says that Fabiola says it was overkill.  Revy cooly asks how many bodies Fabiola pile up when she attacked the bar.  Fabiola says she is not like Revy, she'd never shoot someone just for kicks, she's as bad as Jeffrey Dahmer.  Revy retorts, "Dahmer? I got no interest in collecting testicles and you haven't answered my question, how are we different?"  Killing is the ultimate inequity, there's a reason for it or there is not.

Shenhua then intervenes putting a blade to Fabiola's neck saying if Fabiola wants to keep talking morals, "then we all quit here.  How far can you and boy get... I bet on that. That sounds interesting".  Reflexively Fabiola pulls the trigger but does it as Garcia pushes her arm up and stands between Fabiola and Shenhua. He calmly says they haven't caught up with Roberta yet.  As they set out Garcia tells a defeated looking Fabiola that "these women are professional problem solvers.  Right now we need their help." She must remember that things are different here but one thing won't chnage "we shall all go home together."
Such innocence, how can this be brutally crushed cackles Rei Hiroe?
We cut the the American Grey Fox squad as they try to evade Roberta if they can keep dodging fro building to building her anti-material rifle will be useless. The Colombians in the field call Abrego and demand to know who she is after as she vaults to another building.  The lead Colombia says he trusts Abrego less than the enemy now.  Abrego calls him "Camarasa" and tells him it's got nothing to do with him, leave them be or things could really get out of hand.

Camarasa tells Abrego his boss is playing both sides it seems, is it DIA? NSA?  Abrego yells at him to shut his mouth "and bring me that bitch's head!"  Camarasa say they'll take out all threats between them and Roberta, "if the threat happens to be an imperialist dog, then that's just a bonus."  He doesn't need some gang boss lecturing him about tactics and ends the phonecall.  Abrego kicks his desk saying if they kill even one American they are finished.  But it's already over for him, his aide takes out a pistol and executes Abrego.

Roberta is closing in on the American with the Colombians in hot pursuit as well as the men assembled by the bearded observer, The Black Death, for flushing the American's out.  They are slightly less enthused by the situation they have found themselves in, but their leader is determined to carry on the mission. Revy and the others assess the situation and decide to whether kill the men with "2-dollar brains carrying 250-dollar guns..." Or the soldiers. Whichever makes the first move. 

Lotton the Wizard asks if it would look cool if he makes an entrance from an elevate area, but Revy says he should stay with Saywer the Cleaner. Then Revy says before the fighting starts again she wants to settle their "little discussion" from before. It's important and could save her life.  Back at the bar she even wasted the guys trying to run, was she looking for a little annihilation of her own?  No, it was the beast inside her telling her to kill them all so they wouldn't be trouble later. If she is serious about saving Garcia she shouldn't listen to him, "you're just a dog no matter what you might think."  She is telling Fabiola this for her own good, "after this you gotta wipe your own ass."
A lot of what follows could have been avoided if they had met here/
They all leap into action and melee of shooting and knives ensues picking the Colombians to go against. In the melee, Garcia runs and hides calling to Fabiola to follow him when she can.  He hides in an empty store and crouches with his hands over his ears, so he completelely misses Roberta who goes striding on past the window, still laser focused on bringing down Grey Fox.

Grey Fox plan a counter strategy for dealing with Roberta, they are going to try and bait her into a position they can kill her from then go to ground and wait for orders from the NSA.  Garcia hears shooting as the Colombians move in on Roberta.  He gets up and goes towards the noise, he finds an empty bottle of Ritalin on the ground and realises she has been here.

Camarasa says if the Americans are smart they'll be trying to flank Roberta, "she's here. Find her."  Roberta is in a building high up and spots Colombian soldiers down below.  As Garcia head towards where she is she uses a wire coathanger to deal with the three soldiers who come for her.  Camarasa calls the men over the radio, when he gets no response he realises Roberta is close by and she drops down and attacks the group hand-to-hand until it is just her and Camerasa fighting.

She beats him very badly, as Garcia watches.  But he tells her that she must be wondering why he doesn't shoot her.  He knows she attacked them hand-to-hand so it wouldn't raise alarms with the Americans.  The Comandante wants her head but not everyone in central command agree with him. He has a different reason, she was once the most prominent activist in the Central American Guerilla Movement, the only one worthy of the name "Jackal".  Skilled personel like her are valuable to any organisation.  He points his gun at her and says, "come back with me El Sabueso.  Life as a country maid may have domesticated you.  But I know you can't resist the scent of blood."

Roberta: "Yeah I guess... it was a boring place.  The master's death was a good excuse to leave.  But I will finish my mission... no matter what... If I kill them, my duty is finished and I no longer have any obligation to that mansion."

And Garcia heard all of that, whoops.  Camarasa says he'd like to take on the Americans too, "my will is Havana's will. If I give them the American's head, and vouch for you, I don't think anyone will complain."

They get closer and closer as they talk, and Roberta wraps her legs around Camarasa and licks her lips, "this place is like a sauna... it's filled with the heat of death.  The steaming scent of blood.. really turns me on."  He says he told her not to try and talk her way out, and she responds by saying she'd have plenty of opportunities to do so between here and Cartel General. He'll have to gamble if he wants her, "what will you do... what would you like to do?"
Rei Hiroe you sadist!!
He says she is her dog and so she should be a good dog and stick out her tongue.  They kiss, Garcia watches on in horror.  As they grunt and kiss roughly he is tormented by visions of her as the innocent maid he used to think she was.  Then she asks Camarasa not to rip off her clothes, she doesn't want to fight the Americans naked can she just take off her trousers?

And then she activates a small device in her stomach area that fires several bullets into him and dodges his retalitory shot and knocks his gun away.  She laughs at him saying "once a dog leave's it's home it never comes back to its old master.  You.. hadn't realised that." He crawls for the gun but she kicks it away saying sure he may have made fighting the Americans easier, it would have been easy to use him and then betray him.

But she says she would never join him because he serves "a loathsome fraud called ideology or philosophy."  There is only one person in the world who can "put a collar on me", the master she has chosen - Garcia Lovelace.

Roberta: "The only master worthy enough that I'd drink sewage for and protect with my own life.  I chase my mortal enemies for him... and like a hound I will run them down and tear them apart!"

The dying Camarasa says she is not a bloodhound anymore she is a sick wolf.  And she starts to stamp and punch his head over and over as Garcia repeats over and over "Roberta stop, stop..."  As her killing frenzy fades she turns her blood soaked face and sees Garcia and realises he has seen everything.
Roberta is not the stablest of people right now.
She lets out a scream that all the various combatants hear, then she averts her face from him telling him not to look at her.  He had clenched his fists so tight he made his hands bleed. He falls to his knees then curls up in the foetal position completely catatonic as she runs to him crying.

Then the accusatory man in her head appears and says "didn't you hold on to me... to prevent this entire outcome?"  She had killed him but back then she still had a few shreds of conscience left.  Roberta demands to know how long he'll follow her around, he says that it's she who can't let him go.  She killed him when she raided Tashio Electronics seven years ago and killed two Japanese engineers, "you tore up my family photo before you executed me".

It became one of many tiny scars that remained in her.  She would never have been bothered by them during times of violence, "but you never realised how much it would rot and fester during times of calm and peace."  She needed Garcia and if she had just stayed with him the scar would have healed.  But she ruined that chance.  Roberta demands to know what she must do to be forgiven, or if she was damned for all eternity she couldn't have continued living in that mansion.  But he followed her and even used the young master to get at her, oh wait...

She laughs an unpleasant laugh. She says he's showing her an image of Garcia because why else would he be here instead of back home in the orchard waiting for her to come home.  She says the master will never come back but the young master will laugh and smile again.  She's been shown Garcia in this "horrible condition" the thing she least wanted to see.  The man tells her he is here, he came all the way because he loves her.  But she says everything he says is a lie, neither him nor the young master are real and she'll prove it right now!  And she points a gun at Garcia.  End of volume.
This is Brian K Vaughn levels of abuse of fictional characters.  I say that as a compliment.
Well what a difference some action makes to the flow of the narrative.  Instead of being bogged down in huge chunks of people just sitting and rehashing the plot over and over we get something that's thrilling and builds to an amazing climax. There are a ridiculous number of people in play by now, we haven't even seen what Chang and perhaps Balalaika have planned to deal with the situation.  Despite being the focal point of the story we barely see the Americans, but wow has Roberta unravelled hard.  Her having a severe mental illness is actually quite believable to me as someone who has had psychotic episodes in the past. And if she has been over-medicating herself which Bao noted in the previous volume especially if it for psychiatric medication she is abusing for it's side-effects, she is only going to be making things worse and her grip on reality when not laser focused on her main goal has got incredibly tenuous.  And man, poor Garcia, the things he has seen by now would send even a grown man into trauma let alone a young kid.  No wonder he shutdown completely watching Roberta crush a man's head.  Hope for a happy outcome is pretty much nil at this point.  Weirdly I'm reminded of Homura from Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion with Roberta.  Starts out with large specs and moe appearance, lets the hair down and removed the specs when she returns to the stone cold user of  hundreds of guns and look what heading over the despair horizon at high speed did for her.  Became the ultimate evil of the universe .  I don't see quite the same thing happening here, I just know it'll suck.  Revy and Fabiola's little stand-off is interesting because it almost seems like Revy is trying to look out for the young girl in her own fucked up way, and it was great to see Shenhua back in action and the fact she appears to be living with Lotton and Sawyer, fellow bounty hunters from the "Greenback Jane" arc amused me for some reason.  And then there is the bearded man who is implied to be someone called "The Black Death" and what moves will he make now the Americans are out and on the move?  Everything is on course for an explosive finale in volume nine, which I promise will be here by the end of the month.