Vigilante justice is nothing new to American audiences. Superheroes are built upon the foundation that the system is broken and only unique individuals are capable of keeping society in order. In exchange for this peace established by individuals with a strong sense of morality, the police make temporary truces for the greater good. Gangsta by Kohske from VIZ Signature is a story about this type of vigilante justice wrapped in the drama of warring gangs, drug use, evolved humans, and personal strife.
Worick and Nicolas are Handymen, men in the neighborhood willing to help out people for a small price. Through their work, they’ve established themselves as valuable members of their torn-up community. Ergastulum, their city, is divided into factions of gang families, each with their own set of rules and values. Despite their differences, there is respect for Worick and Nic. See, Nic is a Tag, a human with powers far greater than the average person. He was trained as a mercenary as a child, and he’s taken that training and put it to good use. Worick is a weekend gigolo in addition to being hired muscle. While at work, they meet a young woman named Alex, a prostitute who was involved with a new gang causing trouble in Ergastulum. The men take pity on her and invite her to live with them as their secretary.
While Gangsta may at first seem like a typical slice-and-dice action manga, it is far deeper than that. The relationship between Worick and Nic is far more powerful that work partners. Years ago as a young teenager, Nic was hired to kill a family. Instead of murdering every member, he spared the life of the youngest son. This son, Worick, grew up with Nic as a brother. The two lean upon each other for support. Alex, free from her profession, has difficulty dealing with her new life. She spent years answering to a cruel man who threatened her with violence if she didn’t bring in enough money. After mutilating his body when Worick killed him, Alex continually sees the man as if he were still alive. This hallucination drives her crazy, yet she has no idea how to cope with what happened. Readers are left hoping that Worick and Nic can help Alex navigate this difficult moment in her life.
Besides the personal drama Kohske has woven into the characters’ lives, there is the greater issue of the world she has built around her story. Not a ton of information about Tags are given in the first two volumes that have been published, but there are hints that prejudice exists against these superhumans. Average humans are warned not to mess with them. There’s good reason not to; no human can go toe-to-toe with a Tag. Within these Tags, there is a ranking system based on their ability and strength. Even a low-level Tag can kill the strongest of humans. Kohske has also established that Tags have weaknesses, one that leaves them reliant on medication to keep them fully functioning and alive.
Kohske’s artwork in this series is painstakingly gorgeous. The detail she puts into each page will have readers stop and stare. The backgrounds are believable, and the emotions on each character’s face is wonderful. In Gangsta, Nic is deaf. Most of his communication relies on the sign language Worick knows and the environment around him. He must be an expert in reading the faces of those in his life. Kohske has conveyed that element in her artwork. From the subtle change in understanding on Alex’s face to the grimace on Nic’s face when he’s unhappy to the carefree smile Worick gets when he’s shrugging off responsibility, readers are given a glimpse at what characters are thinking as if they were Nic.