Naoki Urasawa is a modern manga master, well-known here for his works Monster, 20th Century Boys, and Pluto. That reputation means we get the pleasure of seeing his earlier, more adventure-oriented stories in Master Keaton. Urasawa was the artist here, with story by Hokusei Katsushika and later, Takashi Nagasaki.
Originally published beginning in 1988, this series is being released in deluxe, oversized volumes (matching the Monster re-release) with color pages. Viz is calling the series “post-Cold War detective suspense” — I just find it exciting adventure.
Taichi Hiraga Keaton teaches archeology, as an underpaid lecturer, but he more often works as an insurance investigator for Lloyd’s of London. His mother was British, his father Japanese He studied at Oxford, but he also served in the elite SAS, giving him amazing survival skills.
Keaton’s first case in this volume involves a dead journalist in a remote Greek village full of antiquities. When a million pounds of life insurance is at stake, though, there may be bad guys. There’s also a missing art student heir in Italy, a forged statue in London, a life-or-death excavation in the Chinese desert, an elderly German woman affected by the division of her country, and a fallout among drug smugglers. Those last two are the most 80s-feeling stories of the bunch, reminding me what it felt to live through anti-Soviet and “just say no” paranoia.
Keaton is a low-key, intelligent, charming guy, relying on his knowledge and his curiosity about his environment to solve puzzles, stay alive, and find the truth. He has a habit of picking up odd items, like a ketchup squeeze bottle, that come in handy later. He requires other people to push him into action, a quality that’s made his career less successful than his ex-wife’s. As the book progresses, we get to find out more about Keaton’s daughter as well as his father and his odd associations with women. The three generations — Keaton, father, and daughter — go on a country retreat and ponder why people leave in the most emotional of the chapters.
The art is clearly Urasawa, with his clean lines and superior character expression. The settings are worldwide, allowing for a globetrotting feel of travel from the couch. I found the bits of knowledge included, whether education on great civilizations or the importance of respecting native people at an excavation site, a nice counterpoint to the assassination attempts and other violent outbreaks. (The publisher provided a review copy.)