Master Keaton Volume 8
Master Keaton volume 8 has the usual mix of chapters typical to the series — some period Cold War adventures where Keaton has to stop an assassination; some heartstring-tugging family mysteries, where Keaton has to reunite relatives who have misunderstood each other; some life-or-death struggles, where Keaton’s military training is all that keeps the stubborn alive. But the chapter that stood out to me most in this collection was the one where we find out how he became an insurance investigator.
It’s not the strongest, in terms of story or deductions, since they basically stumble into the solution, but I like Keaton’s partner, the English O’Connell. Back in 1982, he was investigating the death of an archaeology professor. The dead man was found in a river at a dig site where Keaton was assisting. Was it an accident or the death intentional? While researching for his report, O’Connell meets Keaton and gets him involved in his first insurance case.
The book starts with another high point, because “Special Menu” revolves around food. Keaton has taken his partner to the “Golden Lotus”, the “best restaurant in Chinatown” (in London). There, they meet the owner, his daughter, and an English worker who gets yelled at by the boss. It turns out that the Brit loves Hong Kong cuisine and has a talent for cooking it (plus he’s in love with the daughter), but the boss is convinced English taste buds don’t appreciate the fine details of his culture.
With some help from his dad, Keaton finds the secret ingredient for a dish good enough to impress the father. There’s an unbelievable tie-in to an historical event, just to remind us that that’s Keaton’s speciality, but the real appeal here is pulling together the right details to reunite a family. Naoki Urasawa’s detailed art is just as beautiful when drawing glistening plates of fried pork as it is when delineating the emotional undercurrents of his characters. The underlying message, that everyone has potential value to contribute, reminds us of how Keaton approaches everyone with equality, gaining information wherever he can.
The next story is nicely seasonal, and Keaton barely appears in it, and even then, as a child. Two former schoolmates are meeting for a Christmas Eve dinner. One is the agent for the other, a novelist with a successful new book. Over their meal, the author tells the other man the plot for his next book, a tale of revenge based on two boys’ private school days together. One pretends to protect the other, but it’s just self-gratifying egotism. It winds up a story of the knowledge of history putting our petty disputes into enough context that we can forgive.
Another chapter features three aggressive company officials in competition for a promotion going camping together as a test from their boss. This one, with the hard-charging business types and especially the comments about the single woman working hard to be accepted, felt very 80s to me. (These stories originally appeared in 1989.)
Other chapters are more timeless, or maybe just still relevant, as when a washed-up Olympic medalist is inspired by the caring of the immigrant community he winds up protecting. In the most emotional, Keaton’s daughter keeps a classmate from committing suicide by skipping school with him and taking his father’s hawk out of the city to freedom. Overall, this volume is a mixed bag, but with some distinct high points.