Gangsta, Volume 1 collects the first five issues of Kohske’s eponymous SF crime manga. First published in 2011, the English language edition came out in 2014.
Ergastulum is a hive of scum and villainy, populated by monsters and victims. The cops are crooked, the criminals are in charge, and life is for the most part unpleasant.
Worick Arcangelo and Nicolas Brown are handymen. They handle problems the other people of Ergastulum are unwilling or unable to face.
For the most part their work consists of removing the unwanted and inconvenient … permanently. The pair are quite good at this. Hired to inhume Barry Abbott and his entire gang for the crime of trespassing on a high-ranked Mafia family’s territory, the pair inexplicably take pity on Alex Benedetto, a miserable prostitute whose chosen alley is near their office. Alex’s pimp Barry dies a miserable death, but Alex is collected as a prize by Nicolas and Worick.
This could easily have been a “from the frying pan into the fire” moment for Alex. Luckily for her, neither Worick nor Nicolas are interested further exploiting her sexuality. She segues into a new career as their secretary.
Alex did not grow up in Ergastulum; some things that are commonplace to citizens are new to her. Some things she picks up fast: Nicolas is deaf. Some things she is slower to suspect: the fact that Worick’s main occupation is gigolo1, not hired killer. The not-totally-a-killer may explain why she was spared.
She eventually realizes that the pair are kind to others as well as her. They protect their friends (who form a hidden network, one which is at times useful). They aren’t necessarily safe men to know, but they can be good to their allies.
She is even slower to learn that Ergastulum is home to a despised group called Taggeds or Twilights. They look human, but they are faster and stronger than regular humans. This makes them deadly fighters. But their gifts come with a price: they need regular doses of a drug/medicine to stay healthy. Also, they are despised.
Nicolas, she learns, is Tagged.
An ergastulum is a Roman prison for dangerous or unruly slaves. I guess there’s no Latin term for Island of Misfit Toys. Most of the characters are bent and broken by their tragic backstories (most of them hinted, to be revealed in later issues). Many of the characters are physically disabled. One of Worick’s eyes was burned out when he was a child; Nicolas is, as previously mentioned, deaf.
It isn’t at all clear how Kohske’s city fits into the real world, whether this is supposed to be a little known town in our world (unlikely given the Tagged) or if it’s a parallel world and the words and names used are translated into familiar terms. The second supposition makes more sense.
I picked this manga more or less at random. How odd that I would encounter two books in a week about oppressed enhanced people kept in line by their dependence on drugs. Luck of the draw, I suppose.
Effective art in this series, but for me … that’s not enough to make this a must-read. This series starts off grimdark and gets grimmer and darker. It’s not my thing. But it may be yours!
1: Gangsta may start off like a bog-standard HBO series, with Alex beaten savagely for not earning her pimp enough money, but subsequent developments indicate that exploitation with various degrees of consent by the exploited is pretty even-handed. Everyone gets to be a victim.