Series Description: Four of China’s supremely skilled detectives – Emotionless, Iron Hand, Life Snatcher, and Cold Blooded – loyally serve their Master Zhuge Zhen-Wo, the head bodyguard and advisor for China’s all-powerful Emperor. Entrusted by the Emperor with the power to arrest and execute any corrupt officials or lawless criminals within the Chinese Empire, these Imperial Constables act as protectors, using their venerable skill as kung fu practitioners and meticulous sleuths to root out potential usurpers and discern the cause of many strange occurrences during the Sung Dynasty!
Volume Description: In this continuation of the first series, Emotionless is saved from near-death by the master of the West Town, Yuan-Shan Lan. In return, Yuan-Shan Lan wants Emotionless to murder him! Meanwhile, Iron Hands and Cold Blooded have been assigned on another dangerous mission to find the criminals wreaking havoc on local towns, but end up entangled in the plot of dangerous villains who are after the powerful Delirium Dagger!
So, I’ve been avoiding this review for, like, months. I’d mentioned offhandedly in a review–or one of our roundtable discussions–something about the very cool Chinese kung-fu comics the old publisher ComicsOne had translated for American audiences. Titles like Chinese Hero, and Spirit of the Wind. Lori Henderson then sent me the first two volumes of the latest Four Constables series, wanting to know if I’d review them as I was more familiar with the books. I said sure, as I was excited to see more of the great Kung Fu comics that I thought we’d never see again here in the states after ComicsOne went out of business.
After ComicsOne folded five or so years ago, Dr Master, their distributor, took over their titles. They kept many of the manga titles ComicsOne had published, titles like the fantastic Iron Wok Jan, and even increased their manga output and shifted away from all the Chinese Kung Fu comics ComicsOne had put out earlier in the decade. It’s an understandable move from a business perspective—I don’t know that the Kung Fu comics are what sunk ComicsOne, but publishing them was certainly a gamble. However, from my standpoint as a reader who loves to discover great comics from all over the world, I was disappointed to see them vanish. The continuing of the Four Constables title then, even with this limited series, is something I find encouraging.
What’s the problem, then? Why have I been avoiding the review? Well, mainly it’s about disappointment, but disappointment in a way that has less to do with the books themselves and more to do with productions values, paper quality, and other incidentals that don’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with the original work.
But before I speak to that, let me get to what’s good: the action, the plot (essentially a mystery), and all the cinematic art. Here you’ll find, if you’re familiar with the kung-fu comics of Andy Seto, the same attention to detail, the same great martial arts stylings and sweeping period costumes and settings. However, to be honest, Seto is not my favorite of the kung fu artists. I prefer the art of Wing Shing Ma. Here, Seto’s shortcomings stand out a bit: the action sometimes is hard to follow as his layout and action lines can sometimes confuse rather than bring clarity. I should say now that, from informal discussions I’ve had with others, not everyone feels this way. Also, I really do love the more painterly Wing Shing Ma.
But my biggest problem is with the production choices made by DR Master: the paper quality seems lower than previous volumes, the colors are a bit flat, and there are some odd choices. Previous kung fu comics released by ComicsOne and Dr Master were not flipped. I can’t find my copies of the original Four Constables volumes, but my recollection is that this was true of them as well. Here, though, DR Master has decided to flip the comic so it reads like manga, right to left. This doesn’t make much sense to me—why not be consistent? Overall, a very mixed bag. I’m glad to see more kung fu comics, but much of what originally drew me to these exciting comics is missing or lackluster here.
Review copies provided by publisher.