Does Whatever A Parasite Can: Jeff Reviews HItoshi Iwaaki's Parasite

To say I'm on the late freight with regards to Hitshi Iwaaki's Parasyte is to drastically understate things: the Del Rey volume I'm reading shows the first Japanese volume was printed 'round 1990. And this isn't even the book's first go-round in the U.S., either: according to Wikipedia, the book was published by Tokyopop back when the company was known as Mixx. I can see why American publishers keep making a go of it. Although the protagonist doesn't dress up in a costume and go out to fight crime, Parasyte is the closest thing to a manga superhero book I can remember reading. The story is about a teenager, Shinichi, whose right arm is replaced by a shape-changing intelligent parasite that failed to take over his brain. With the alien's consciousness and shape-changing powers installed in his right arm, Shinichi struggles to keep his powers hidden from his family and schoolmates, and discovers that with a great parasite comes great responsibility: other, more successful, parasites have landed all over Tokyo and begun feeding on human beings, and are usually intent on destroying Shinichi whenever they encounter him. More than once, I found myself thinking Parasyte, with very few changes, would've fit pretty seamlessly into DC's failed Focus line--the first few pages of Chapter 2 in particular have the pacing and storytelling I remember from, say, Kinetic. On top of that, Iwaaki adds two horror staples--"aliens are among us" and "something else is inhabiting my body"--and whips the whole mix into a wildly enjoyable froth.

But frustratingly, even though Parasyte is such a high-concept confection it'd be a perfect transition book for superhero readers looking to branch out a bit, I think it would prove to be a tough sell--I found the cover of the Del Rey edition pretty god-damn cheesy, frankly, with a logo that's a shout-out to the heyday of Patty Smyth & Scandal, and a cover that's less terrifying than enigmatic: a hand with eyes? How scary is that? Also problematic is Iwaaki's art, which has a delightfully grotesque wackiness whenever the aliens are involved (it reminded me of Jack Cole in a few scenes) but is crushingly generic otherwise--it someone were to tell me Iwaaki learned to draw by copying aircraft safety cards, I'd totally believe them. The book also falls prey to Del Rey's cautious publication schedule: six months between volumes? I'd have been pretty pissed if I'd gotten hooked on this when it first came out.

Regardless, if you can get past such trivial concerns--and they are pretty trivial in the face of the book's other strengths--the first volume of Parasyte is a dynamite little read, well worth the time and money. A highly Good piece of work.