Saturday, June 20, 2009

Monster, vol. 1

I'm finally digging into this series after David Welsh's column mentioned Monster and its numerous Eisner Award nominations. The Eisner Awards are given at San Diego Comic-Con International each year.

The story: Dr. Kenzo Tenma is a brilliant neurosurgeon working at a German hospital. After a regular patient dies after being "skipped" over in favor of surgery on a famous opera singer, Tenma has a crisis of conscience and vows to save lives.

Since his action in saving a boy dying from a bullet wound ran counter to the hospital director's beliefs, Tenma loses his surgical department chairmanship and is treated as a resident. However, this all changes when Tenma's boss dies. Eventually, Tenma crosses paths with young boy he saved, who seems to have grown into a "monster."

Reaction: Honestly, I felt at home with this manga -- all of my immediate family members work in hospitals, so the politics and science were all very normal to me. So much of this manga explores our humanity, from crying relatives mourning their lost family member to the simple joy inherent in saving lives. But, the fantastic nature of the crimes committed in this first volume, along with the killer's connection to Tenma brought suspense to the forefront. I couldn't have put this down if I wanted to; it was that tense.

Deep thoughts: Neurosurgery is one of the hardest specializations to work in. Even though so many of Dr. Tenma's patients' brains are nearly destroyed before seeing him, it's the miracle of the brain's ability to heal itself that allows people to lead somewhat normal lives following major head trauma. Recent research has shown that while one portion of the brain is damaged, other parts will compensate for that loss.

Artwork: After reading quite a bit of shojo lately, with its "beautiful people," it was a breath of fresh air to see realistically proportioned characters, even if it seemed that too many people possessed bulbous noses. I also loved the nearly photorealistic images, especially in the scenes taking place outside of the hospital and the surgical close-ups.

The verdict: Highly recommended. Really, this is on the cusp of "Required reading." The first few pages of this manga set up who Dr. Tenma is and who he has been up until the moment he makes his decision to help anyone, regardless of their elite connections. Of course, I want to see exactly how this murder mystery turns out and how it changes Dr. Tenma -- for better or worse. Monster is available in the U.S. from Viz.

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