Review: Wolfsmund, Vols. 1-2

It is the beginning of November, and although we’re past the official date of 11/5/13, might I share something?

Remember, remember the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Most of the internet has seen the Guy Fawkes mask, whether as the face of Anonymous, the hacktivist group, or  as the image of the title character V from V for Vendetta, Alan Moore comic book and Wachowski siblings film. What many people don’t realize is that Guy Fawkes’ mask comes from a failure to overthrow a “tyrannical government.” Fawkes and a group of conspirators attempted to blow up the House of Lords with a stockpile of gunpowder, an attempt that failed.  Guy Fawkes’ capture led to his torture and eventual betrayal of his conspirators.

If you’ve read any of Wolfsmund, this may seem familiar.

Wolfsmund, Vol. 1Wolfsmund, written and illustrated by Mitsuhisa Kuji, is the story of a rebellion and a people oppressed by a tyrannical government. People of the cantons that would eventually become Switzerland find themselves hemmed in by the despicable crown of Habsburg Austria. In this world, the Sankt Gotthard pass is the key to leaving the cantons for Italy, and controlled by the beatific and horrid Wolfram. All who pass through are subjected to his whims, and he always spots a fake.

Many try to enter through the pass, either to find safety, deliver information, or escape pursuit. Some attempt to bypass the fortress at the pass by going through the wilds, a dangerous and cold mountainside almost impossible to cross. But all feel the wrath of Wolfram.

The inquisitive and evil eye of Wolfram is one of the keys to why Wolfsmund works as a piece of fiction. The world of Wolfsmund is undeniably brutal. Within the first three pages, we see a man beheaded. What follows is just as severe. There is murder, torture, public execution, and more.  All the work of one man, one untouchable evil. While the magnificent bastard is an old cliche of film and fiction, I have yet to see one executed so well in manga. Despite his best attempts, there are small seeds of hope. Some of the goats leave the pasture.

Wolfsmund, Vol. 2

Part of why Wolfsmund is so resonant for me in this moment is also the unflinching eye it casts on absolute power. Wolfram states to one of the main characters in the second volume, “Punish all who are suspect.” This, strangely, reminds me of the current Edward Snowden/NSA spying scandal running through the media. Observe everything. Everything is suspect. Wolfram takes this to heart, often with horrible consequences.

While Wolfsmund is Mitsuhisa Kuji’s debut manga, she clearly has a set of artistic chops that rival some of the best. She commands pacing and storytelling deftly, and can handle the action scenes just as well as the searingly intense interrogations. The art is clean and smart, reminiscent of Kaoru Mori’s Emma or Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto. On the other hand, Kuji is happy to let it all hang out. Her characters are bawdy, some sexual, some depraved. All are avatars of a larger struggle.

Part of what makes the magnificent bastard so fun to read is the eventual failure he or she will commit. Wolfram will slip, and will no longer be magnificent. His failure will be his undoing. Volumes 1 and 2 of Wolfsmund are setting a stage for the grand fall.

I expect to see this one through until he does.

For Fans Of: Game of Thrones, The Dark Ages, magnificent bastards
Final Verdict: Highly Recommended (for adult audiences)