Kyoto, Japan: the calm of a rainy night in the not-too-distant future is punctuated by a brutal murder inside one of the city’s most notorious nightclubs. As the words Target:Confirmed:Terminate play across our vision, a masked figure carrying two sickle-shaped knives leaves the area. The scene is set.
As the curtains rise on Act 2, agent Kabuki has sheathed her curved knives and returned to the headquarters of The Noh, the Japanese government’s best-kept secret and the only effective crime fighting organization in the city. Surrounded by the Noh’s other seven operatives (all masked women adept at armed and unarmed combat) she learns that crime lord Ryuichi Kai has returned to Kyoto. The Noh is assigned to take out Kai’s potential collaborators before he can regain his grip on the city. This should be an easy job for a woman of almost superhuman physical and mental ability, but Kabuki knows that for her there will be more to this task than the simple killings she is used to. As she battles with a past full of dark memories, Kabuki is poised to reveal the Noh’s corrupt power structure, a moment that will force her to let go of everything that links her to her past and identity.
David Mack’s stark black and white drawings range from rough pencil sketches to images that look like woodcuts are interspersed with abstract backgrounds, textured lines, and drops and splashes of ink. Circle of Blood was first published as Mack’s college thesis after four years of studying Japanese, theater, anatomy, and mythology. In my opinion Mack’s artwork is still ahead of his writing in terms of flow and coherence at this stage, but sticking with the story as the foundations of Kabuki’s psychological struggle and personal iconography are laid is well worth it. Not being an expert, I can’t comment on the accuracy of Mack’s portrayal of Japanese history and culture – readers will have to draw their own conclusions.
Kabuki, vol. 1: Circle of Blood
By David Mack
Image Comics 2001