story by Yumemakura Baku; art by Jiro Taniguchi; translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian
published by Fanfare/Ponent Mon; $25 US
When I read the first book of The Summit of the Gods, I wrote it off as men’s adventure. Sure, it was beautifully drawn, but who cares about demonically motivated mountain climbers?
Now, sitting in my cozy kitchen listening to the rain fall outside, I realize that I underestimated the story. (Or I’m just at a different place — the reader matters as much as the work in determining a good match.) I now understand how the story isn’t just about doing crazy things in the most extreme natural settings; it’s also about finding a way to do what drives you (as when Jouji Habu has to take and then quit jobs to find money and time for climbing) and leaving something behind after you’re gone, even if it’s only your name in some record book somewhere.
Even if I couldn’t relate to the question of whether to continue an obsessive hobby as middle age approaches, there’s something magical about the way a comic can take you somewhere you’d never otherwise visit. I’m never going to go mountaineering, and even if I didn’t, I wouldn’t try these world-shattering climbs, but here, in this story, I can experience virtually a little of what the experience feels like.
The Summit of the Gods Book 2 continues telling Habu’s story, the tale of a climber who has nothing else in his life other than determination to climb one of the hardest cliffs in the world solo. We see him through the eyes of the similarly obsessed photographer Fukamachi, only his drive is to find Habu. His quest puts him in touch with the first major female character in the book, a woman who wants to find Habu for her own reasons, who’s related to his former, now dead, partner… and who has Habu’s journal from one of his most infamous climbs.
I was engrossed in Habu’s experience — the exaggerated natural conditions, his thoughts while trying to survive, the amazingly detailed portraits of the environment, his aggression against the weather when he’s the interloper, why he’s so competitive with someone he has so much in common with. In the previous book, he was a monster figure, larger than life. Here, we finally get to know him and more about what drives him. He’s facing death more directly than ever before, which brings everything into relief for him and us. Although he’s still superhuman, it’s in a different way, showing us the detail of what he must do to survive.
The second half of this volume covers Habu’s attempt to finally climb Everest, as part of a mixed group, and the struggles he faces working within a team and overcoming his age. In between, Fukamachi’s own story has parallels — he too is trying to overcome the loss of a climbing partner, one with personal connections to his life. Strangely, although Fukamachi’s story seems the more “normal” one, since it’s basically a variant of “should I get back on the horse or walk away from a hobby/profession that has been changed for me?”, I didn’t mind that Habu’s life in flashback continues to take up the majority of the book.