Nicholas Cage, I have a swell idea for your next project: option the rights to Wounded Man. This mid-eighties schlockfest is tailor made for you. It has a hero with extravagantly bad hair, bad guys so charismatic they beg for Christopher Walken or Sharon Stone to play them, and copious amounts of acrobatic sex and violence. And while it lacks the evil Nazis and mad scientists of Offered, another Kazuo Koike gem set in South America, Wounded Man does Offered one better: the series’ main villain is a pornographer. But not the sleazy, sad-sack type who might be the prime suspect on a Law & Order: SVU episode — no, the chief villain in Wounded Man runs a studio called God’s Pornographic X-Rated Films, a.k.a. GPX. She also wears a caftan and carries a parasol.
You know she’s evil.
Wounded Man begins in Brazil, where Yuko Kusaka, an ambitious young NHK reporter, is pursuing a story about a modern-day gold rush in the Amazon basin. Yuko is intent on finding “Rio Baraki,” a prospector who’s rumored to be Japanese. Baraki finds her first, however, savagely attacking her in a city park. “You’d better thank me because this could be much worse!” he tells Yuko. “Go back to Japan if you don’t want anymore trouble!” (He also talks to her at great length about the unsavory eating habits of Amazonian fish, dialogue that’s so unsafe for work I’ll do the honorable thing and not reprint it here.)
What Baraki doesn’t count on is that Yuko falls madly in love with him, following him deep into the jungle in spite of his dire warnings. She and her camera crew are ambushed by bandits, tied up, and sexually tortured; Baraki rescues them. She then jettisons her crew and tags along with Baraki. Once again, she’s ambushed, tied up, and sexually tortured; once again, Baraki rescues her. Baraki and Yuko then fight; they have sex; and Baraki tells Yuko his sad story, a story even more screwed up than all crazy, non-con antics that preceded it.
Baraki, it turns out, was once Keisuke Ibaraki, star quarterback at USC. After a big game, a group of thugs kidnapped him and his high school sweetheart, threatening them with death if Baraki refused to make an X-rated film with a famous female tennis player. Baraki turned GPX down; his heart belonged to Natsuko, and no amount of money would compromise his resolve. Not even the prospect of starvation undermined his commitment to Natsuko — naked and locked in a dungeon, the two survived by drinking each other’s urine before Natsuko finally died. Baraki lived, and has been plotting his revenge ever since he escaped GPX’s clutches.
I’m not making this up.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that a couple of porn-addled teenagers were responsible for the script, however; the whole story feels like something concocted by Dirk Diggler in one of his pitiful bids for movie-actor legitimacy. Though the ostensible genre is action/adventure, the story’s epic sex scenes take up more than half the first volume alone, with only the occasional fist-fight or manly swim through piranha-infested waters to relieve the tedium. The most reprehensible aspect of all the fornicating, however, is how little of it is genuinely consensual. Yuko is molested by Baraki, by random smugglers and poachers, even by members of her own television crew in a scene unpleasantly reminiscent of Deliverance, yet Koike and artist Ryochi Ikegami play these episodes for maximum titillation, trotting out one of the hoariest, most offensive cliches from the rape culture playbook: the victim who falls for her attacker because the sex is so amazing.
I wish I were making this up.
Koike and Ryoichi Ikegami find other ways to offend as well. The Brazilian characters are drawn as crude caricatures, with hulking physiques, gap-toothed smiles, and leering eyes; their primary role in the story is menacing Yuko. The few female characters are equally ridiculous, shunning clothing the way six-year-olds shun brussell sprouts; I’ve never seen so much laughably gratuitous nudity in a manga before. (The naked tennis player is kind of disconcerting, however, as she looks an awful lot like Martina Navatarola.)
The series’ greatest offense, however, is the way Yuko is portrayed. She may be a judo champ, capable of delivering a high-flying kick, and a rising star at the NHK, scoring high ratings with her investigative journalism, but her behavior is so petulant, so dumb, and so completely contradictory that Koike undermines her identity as a competent, strong woman. “That’s right, I hate you,” she tells Baraki during one of their numerous fights. “But at the same time, I love you so much! I’m so in love with you and I get so weak just being touched by you.” Her frequent hysterical outbursts would be comical if they didn’t serve to infantilize and diminish her, robbing her of any meaningful agency or identity outside of sex object.
Really, I wish I were making this up.
I’d be the first to admit that Wounded Man is luridly fascinating. It’s hard to imagine who thought any of it was a good idea, though it unfolds in such a fast, furious, and utterly unironic fashion that readers may be swept up in the story despite their better judgment. In short, Wounded Man is perfect fodder for a Nick Cage movie. Agents, are you listening?
WOUNDED MAN, VOLS. 1-9 • STORY BY KAZUO KOIKE, ART BY RYOICHI IKEGAMI • COMICSONE • RATING: MATURE (COPIOUS NUDITY AND VIOLENCE, VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN, STRONG LANGUAGE, INANE PLOT TWISTS)