Time for another all manga month and a half, and this time I'll be doing the seinen comic Black Lagoon. This tells the tale of the Black Lagoon company of pirate mercenaries who operate out of the South China sea and are based in the fictional Thai city of Roanapur, a wretched hive of scum and villany. The team is made up of Dutch, the leader and a Vietnam vet, Benny a computer whiz on the run from the FBI and Revy "Two Hand" a firey tempered woman who is an expert with every kind of gun. They travel around in an 80-foot "Elmco-tyoe PT Boat", the titular Black Lagoon. The series is written and drawn by Rei Hiroe and ran throughout the noughties before going on hiatus for a few years. Those stories were collected in nine "tankabons" and after a five year gap a tenth volume has been released. All of them shall be covered. This collection contains the first story, "Black Lagoon" where they gain a new member of the team, "Ring Ding Ship Chase" an excuse for Revy to show her stuff and "Rasta Blasta" where they get caught up in a more dubious scheme than usual. They also work closely with a scarred Russian woman called Balalaika who runs the Russian mafia there named "Hotel Moscow" and whose members are all veterans of the Afghanistan war. The setting for the series is actually the mid-nineties, although that doesn't make a huge amount of difference it's probably to make the various war veteran's ages more realistic. This is a very violent manga with a lot of bad people and morally dubious actions and attitudes on display. If that's bothersome to you, skip this month and come back for superheroes in the second half of April. The rest of you strap in it's going to be a bumpy ride.
[Note: This manga is "unflipped" so must be read from right to left]
BLACK LAGOON: It starts with a punch in the face delivered by Dutch to a Japanese salaryman. The Japanese boat has been hijacked and the Black Lagoon company have been tasked with collecting a disk of information from Asahi Heavy Industry. The Japanese were on the way to hand it off to their Borneo branch. Nursing his bleeding nose the Japanese man says he's told them everything he knows, while Revy suggests kneecapping him. But Dutch believes they have heard enough.
|Revy and their hostage.|
We then cut to the boardroom of Asahi Heavy Industry. They have been contacted about negociating the return of the disk. They believe the Russian Mafia are interested in Asahi's trading partners, "they're hoping to get in on the covert trade deal we're currently planning. Otherwise they'll go public with verifiable evidence of our shady dealings."
They debate letting them come aboard with their activities but decide it's not worth it, they can't put any faith in them. They have information from a local Chinese expatriate that the disk isn't in the hands of the Russian Mafia yet, it's still in the hands of the pirates who raided their ship. They decide to send some "specialists" to use any means neccessary to recover or destroy the disk.
On the Black Lagoon, Dutch and Revy are arguing about her bringing along the Japanese man, she thinks they can sweeten their cut of the deal with some ransom money. Dutch says how the hell are they going to sort that out and an enraged Revy starts firing at the terrified man. "Revy, get a grip! You're ruining my boat!" yells Dutch. He gets her to calm down and she stomps off.
|Dutch and their hostage.|
Dutch: "Don't know. Don't want to know. Snoops get themselves killed quickly in my line of work."
Dutch gets up saying they are making a drop off at a bar at port. They'll leave him there and hopefully he survive long enough for his company to come collect him. Left alone, the Japanese man whimpers, "Oh dear God..."
Back at Asahi Heavy Industry they chairman is told that an employee is being held hostage. They have already contracted mercenaries from a group called "E.O." and they decide that they'll leave the employee to his fate, his name is Rokuro Okajima.
The Black Lagoon company are drinking in the bar they are handing the disk over in, Rokuro is with them and Dutch says it's a bit of a weird name. Rokuro says the bar is "like the last bar on Earth". Dutch says he likes that, it was opened by an ex-South Vietnamese soldier and was at first a hideout for deserters, but before long all sorts of drifters started congregating there.
Dutch: "Hookers, junkies, merc, contract killers... the worst kind of outlaws you can imagine. Not your kind of place? Eh, Rock?"
Rock says he'd take a night out at a Japanese bar over this. Dutch leaves to make a call and Rock asks what he just called him. Dutch says Rock is a cool nickname. Benny then tells Rock that giving people nicknames is what Dutch does.
Dutch is on the phone to Balalaika who tells him thanks to a "Chinese rat" she wants the drop-off point changed to Palawan instead. The Chinese man says he was leaked the information by the elder of the "Sun Yee On" and now there is a hit squad sent by the Japanese coming to Thailand. The outfit is called "Extra Order", and as the Russians execute the rat, Balalaika tells Dutch to "make sure to watch your back."
But then Extra Order barge into the bar tossing a few grenades first to clear the way. While Revy calmly drinks the others take cover. The bar owner, a man named Bao, pulls out a shotgun and asks Revy if she knows anything about this. Which she denies. Rock starts having hysterics, Revy tells him "quit whining dipshit. Life's a ride. Might as well have some fun... or you'll miss out. Mr. Japanese." And balletic bullet-filled gun fu ensues.
|Revy in action.|
The Extra Order captain is told that the bar shootout resulted in sixteen dead and eight seriously injured. This pleases the Captain who says that "these badasses can actually put up a fight". After previous gigs being boring and unchallenging he's been waiting for something like this.
The Black Lagoon is sailing towards Palawan, Dutch tells Rock that if they can't contact his company they'll drop him off in Malaysia. Rock gets pissed at the thought of just being abandoned after all they have put him through, but Revy explodes at him, holding a gun to his head telling him they aren't "your fuckin' taxi service." Then Benny gets through to Rock's employers.
Rock apologises about the loss of the disk, but the voice on the phone tells him "there never was any disk and you're already dead. Understand?" The disk was regarding nuclear technology with a proposal submitted to a certain country, as the U.N. bans alls such technology transfer to this nation the disk's very existence must be denied. So for the good of the company "accept your fate with dignity and perish in the South China Sea for us." And he hangs up on the horrified Rock telling him that all the senior management including the C.E.O will attend his funeral as we see Extra Order boarding an helicopter gunship.
Rock runs and pukes over the side of the ship, Revy doesn't understand why he is so shocked, "Jesus, they're only your employer right?" Then Benny calls her through her earpiece saying he's picking up something approach and it's too fast to be a boat. And the gunship flies overhead. It locks on and starts dropping charges on them. Revy grabs the antitank rifle and shoots back. Rock tells her that "Rambo shot one of those down with a bow and arrow". She swears back at him, she can't get a clear shot while Dutch janks the boat to avoid the charges.
|Gunboat versus gunship.|
On board the Black Lagoon the crew are wondering why the gunship has stopped attacking. Benny says they must be missing something... Then they realise the channel is full of reefs and they'll have no room to run, they've been herded into a trap. The crew put their heads together trying to figure out what to do, after a moment of panic, Rock suddenly has a crazy idea.
|Newly christened "Rock" has an idea.|
The gunship comes back around and starts firing at them again. Revy keeps firing at them to get them playing chicken. The Black Lagoon approaches the shipwreck at full speed and in a bitchin' double page spread launches itself into the air and smashes into the helicopter while Rock gives a triumphant middle finger and a hearty "FUCK YOU!!" as the helicopter explodes.
The crew are battered and bruised and Rock has been knocked out, but they are all in one piece. Revy and Dutch look down at Rock with what almost looks like fondness. Later the four of them hand off the disk to Balalaika she thanks them before noting they all look terrible.
She then passes the disk back to Mr Kageyama, there on behalf of Asahi Heavy Industry. He says they'll negociate terms back at his office. He tells Rock he's earned his pay, now it's time to go home.
Rock: "Okajima's dead and gone from your world. You said so yourself. My name... is Rock."
Kageyama takes this in his stride and drives off. Balalaika gets in her car and tells Rock it would be a shame to see a tough guy like him wither away as a salaryman. If he ever needs help he can rely on her. Dutch asks Rock what he plans to do now. Rock says he knows of an outfit looking to hire a crew member, "they're couriers... and every once in a while they break the law. That sound about right?" And with Rock now the fourth member of the team we close this feature length first chapter.
|Balalaika (top) and the new Black Lagoon crew.|
Back at port they are relaxing, Dutch pops out leaving Revy in charge. Outside a man called Mr. Chen pulls up and asks Dutch "just how long are you going to work with that sly, fry faced cunt?" He means Balalaika. He tells Dutch that ever since the Russians moved in his business has been suffering. He tells Dutch to get out of business with her, but Dutch tells him "even bad guys gotta have some principles, you dig?"
|Dutch turns down someone.|
Inside the car, Revy complains that running errands isn't going to get them anywhere, Rock is still in his "white collar monkey suit". Rock says he's not low on funds, he wears it because he likes it. She grumbles that she bought him a hawaiian shirt the other day and he isn't wearing that. Rock says because it's tacky. And they continue arguing. They are being watcher and one observer reports in to Mr. Chen who says "looks like they've fallen for our trap". He tells a man called Luac that if they do this right they'll get a cut of anythig going in Kalimantan.
On board the Black Lagoon, Revy is teaching Rock how to tie various knots. She asks him what he did at his job, he says he was in the "materials procurement department". His job seemed to mainly consist of bowing to everyone and having to go out drinking after work and take abuse from his superiors. Revy wonders how he put up with it. Rock just shrugs say he didn't want to end up on the street. He asks Revy what she did before this.
Revy: "What I did in the past is no different from what I am now.... it's the truth. I stole. I killed. I did all sorts of vile crap. My story ain't worth shit."
She looks somewhat sad by this confession, but to brighten her mood is the news from Benny that they are being chased by several river boats and the "stench of blood and gunsmoke" cheers her right up.
Luac radios Dutch to taunt him. Dutch tells him to pull back but Luac says he's sees " a shitty old PT boat runnin' for a fay stack of cash." Dutch realises Chen must have talked him into coming after them. Luac just gives his men the order to "flank that fucker from both sides!!" Unfortunately this results in two of the boats shooting each other in the crossfire.
|Revy in one-woman-army mode.|
We cut to Chen in a panic, trying to get away before Balalaika tracks him down. Too late, her and some of her men appear. He babbles that she's got it all wrong and they can just sort things out over dinner. She breaks his nose:
Balalaika: "Listen to me you miserable turd... there's nothing you can tell me. I know what I need to know. Start praying. Because that's all you have time for before you die."
The Lagoon crew are back at base again, Revy moans that they wasted perfectly good ammo on that run. Balalaika calls Dutch and says she heard Chen had been playing games with him. He confessed it himself and we see him sitting, tied to a chair with a bomb under it.
She says he was quite talkative for someone running a conspiracy which he'd been trying to run on everyone in town. She says she'll make sure this never happens again, it "must have caused you quite a headache." Dutch says not really. But she replies that he's sweet but she has for him a little "muzyka for your ears" and she holds out the phone so Dutch hear the detonation of the bomb under Chen, which pleases Dutch. She says she'll have more work for him soon and rings off.
|Balalaika does Dutch a favour.|
RASTA BLASTA: The story begins in Venezuela. A shadowy figure of a woman in a dress with braids is pointing a gun at a man who says to her that the kid isn't there anymore, "they took him along with the heroin last week!!" They must be heading for some market now. In response she executes him.
We then cut to the Black Lagoon and the boy in question, Garcia Lovelace, throws ice-cream in Revy's face calling them "villains". He wants off the ship right now. Revy pulls her guns but Rock manages to stop her doing anything rash. Revy and Rock go back to the cabin and Dutch says to Rock "the kid's going to be sold off, so we can't have anything broken in transit. Watch over him alright."
We cut to a street corner in Roanapur, Thailand. The braided woman asks directions to "the absolute worst bar in town." A place where all the gangstars hang out. Back on the ship Garcia has chucked pizza in Rock's face who sighs and asks if Garcia could stop throwing food around.
Garcia says he isn't scared because he knows his father will come help him. Rock says he thought Garcia was an orphan. Garcia says the cartel told them lies. His father is one of the thirteen families of South America. He's Diego Lovelace head of the family and Garcia is his son and heir. Rock says he must be lying, but Garcia says why would he at a time like this?
His family wasn't comparatively well off, but their plantation was doing well. But gangsters came and wanted to buy them off their land due to the mineral deposits the geology surveys had found there. His dad refused to deal with them and that's why he is here. Rock is still dubious, but Garcia tells him all the information about the rare mineral. Rock goes and tells all this to Dutch who agrees something odd is going on. Rock says the cartel people are lying and that means trouble is brewing.
Revy asks if his bleeding heart is doing the talking and Rock says he feels sorry for the kid, but having a client lie to them bothers him. Dutch asks Rock if the story is really true and Rock says he used to work in the materials procurement department at his worl so he knows a lot about elements and minerals. What the boy says about the Lovelace family is true and matches their dossier on all the South American families.
Dutch doesn't understand why they snatched the kid and then lied to get him sold off when they could ransom him. Revy say they are selling the kid off because, "nothing gets mobsters frothing like having shit slapped in their faces." Dutch decides they need a back-up plan and calls Balalaika to get more info on the job. He calls her asking for info in the Manisalera Cartel and the Lovelace family. She says she'll get the info and deliver it to Dutch at the Yellow Flag bar.
|Roberta sits and waits.|
The maid says no and Revy snarls that she shouldn't look when she should be drinking. The maid squeezes her glass so hard it shatters much to the surprise of the barman. Revy brings the coke to Garcia somewhat ungraciously. Dutch says he's seen kids act more mature than her. She says she doesn't remember being asked to babysit.
Revy starts taunting Rock about being Garcia's servant, Garcia says his house only has one attendant. A maid called "Roberta". He points at Revy and says if she took her on Revy wouldn't stand a chance. Revy laughs hysterically saying what would she do, throw tea sets at her? Rock asks if he's seen Roberta fight anyone. Garcia says no, but she would arm wrestle him for fun and always lose, except for one day the gangsters came to their house.
Garcia: "The moment she found out about them, she went stiff. I tried to force her arm back with my usual strength but her arm was like steel. That's when I realised... Roberta was losing on purpose. There was some reason she was pretending to be a frail maid."
While he tells them this some men affiliated with the Manisalera Cartel come into the bar saying they know she's been asking after them and that in her get up she got herself noticed.
She tells them she is in the employ of the Lovelace family and that "a certain upsetting incident transpired.. leaving me struggling to maintain proper decorum. You must forgive me." This amuses the cartel members, but she raises her umberella and fires something out of it that sends the men flying and gets her noticed by Rock and the others. Garcia says in shock, "that's Roberta..."
|Roberta kicks off.|
A gun battle ensues between the cartel members and Roberta, he umbrella is made of kevlar allowing her to defend herself against gunfire. The Black Lagoon compant decides to make themselves scarce. Dutch says they'll leave Garcia behin, "I'm not walking around with a landmine aimed right at me."
Rock tells Garcia, who is looking distraught, that if he waits here he and Roberta can go back to Venezuela. Garcia says to Rock that he didn't know Roberta was like this. The cartel leader notices Rock and Co. and demands to know why they haven't shipped Garcia off yet. At this Roberta sees Garcia there and she tells him his father is very worried about him.
Roberta: "It's only natural that you might find me frightening. I shall explain later. I have some affairs I must attend to. Please wait a moment."
She then notices who he is with and points her umbrella at them. This makes Revy grab Garcia and hold a gun to his head telling her to back off. Rock shouts at her saying she's acting like the bad guys."
The cartel leader gets annoyed that he's being ignored, Roberta says she can't agree to Revy's terms. She "intends to carry out my duties as stipulated by the Lovelace family creed." She then speaks Spanish which translates as picking up a sword the execute justice, to "smite vile rogues and deliver death as punishment" to arrive at the altar of saints.
She and Revy exchange fire and Revy takes a glancing bullet to the shoulder which knocks her out cold. Dutch yells at them to run as he picks up Revy. Garcia looks tearfully at Rock and asks him to take him with them. Rock scoops him up and they all make their getaway.
|Garcia is shocked by this side of Roberta.|
She walks unflinchingly out of the explosion as the Black Lagoon company get into their car not quite believing what they see. She manages to get onto the car roof using a combat knife as an anchor. She and Dutch exchange fire and they end up driving into the wharf which is a dead end.
Meanwhile Balalaika gets an update on the situation that the Yellow Flag is half demolished and both the Black Lagoon crew and The Hound are missing. But they got a report of their car headed for the port, so Balalaika says she'll lead a team to the port and hangs up. She says that this might turn into a proper fight and it's been a while, "playing Mafia tends to make us lazy and slow." She owes Dutch a great debt so she rallies her men saying "cock the hammer... it's time for action!"
|Roberta just keeps coming...|
Revy: "This hurts like hell!! I'm gonna kill that fucking bitch!! Where is tha goddamned skank!! Well?! Well?!! Is she dead? Is she still alive?! Well?!"
Dutch says she's in luck, Roberta is still alive. She and Roberta then stand facing each other ready to duel. Roberta taunts Revy and the bullets fly. Revy gets into melee range and they exchange blows. But then Balalaika and her men appear and she tells them that it's time "you two gave it a rest."
She tells them Hotel Moscow had planned on waging war against the Manisalera cartel and neutralise their operation but she's been saved a job here. Back in Venezuela the cartel's headquarters are in the process of being crushed, so everything has worked out. The abduction of Garcia is a moot point so there is no good reason the two of them should fight.
|Balalaika breaks things up.|
Roberta is a former Farc guerrilla trained in assassination ops in Cuba. Wanted internationally for kidnapping and murder, and is even linked to a U.S. embassy bombing. "A true, dyed-in-the-wool terrorist" finished Balalaika. Garcia asks if this is all true and Roberta says it is, telling him there are things in the world that he was better off not knowing about.
She says she believed her cause was just and believed in the coming dawn of the revolution. She fought countless battles and killed many people. But after drenching so many nights with blood she finally realised she was not a revolutionary she was nothing more than a "guard-dog, bound to gangsters and their cocaine fields." Farc aligned themselves with the cartels and "sold their souls out of greed."
She deserted the militia and Garcia's father was kind enough to take her in, he'd been a close friend of her father. When Garcia was kidnapped she only knew of one way to come to his rescue and that was to take up the identity she has cast aside long ago. "To be a 'blood-hound' or be a 'guard dog'... as someone who was once seen only as an obedient dog... this is the only way I can repay my debt."
Garcia runs up to her as says she isn't a dog. She's part of his family, her old self died somewhere previously and "she made amends for her sins before she died." This has nothing to do with her now so can they please go home. She wipes away his tears saying "a boy musn't shed tears so easily".
Balalaika says it's all worked out then. But Revy says while those two have their "fuckin' happy end.. what about this nasty hole in my shoulder?" Balalaika says she could just grin and bear it, but Revy says she has a score to settle, that's how things work in their world. So Dutch suggest they fist fight with each other until it's settled. Garcia agrees, telling Roberta not to let that "nasty woman defeat you".
Garcia runs to Roberta who woozily wakes up and apologises but he says she has nothing to be sorry for. He helps her up and when Dutch offers Garcia says he can take care of her himself. Balalaika tells her Sergeant to see to their injuries and escort them to the airport and if any remaining cartel members intefere to deal with as he sees fit. Roberta asks if Garcia can fetch her glasses, he asks why as she doesn't need them but she says she needs them so she can be "true to you young master". And it ends with a final image of Rock, Dutch and Benny trying to revive the unconcious Revy.
|We've not seen the last of Roberta..|