Saturday, June 28, 2008

Speed Racer by Dwayne Alexander Smith and Elmer Damaso

Speed Racer is the young scion of the Racer family. His father, Pops Racer, designs cars for a living, and his son, Speed, Races them. Speed drives his father's pride and joy, the Mach Five, a high-performance race car, along with his own determination and skill, that makes him the winner in every single race.

And that doesn't sit well with Adam Matic, the son of the equally reknowned car inventor, Doctor Otto Matic. When Speed wins another race in the Mach Five, Adam accuses him of cheating and decks him, right at the finish line. Speed fights back, refuting Adam's accusations, until they finally have to be separated by their own fathers.

Later that night, Adam tells his father to make his car better, so he can outdrive and win against Speed, or Otto Matic will really see Adam get angry. Dr. Matic works on the car until he falls asleep, and is awakened by his manservant, who puts the old man to bed. Dr. Matic blames himself for Adam's troubles, as he ignored Adam when he was younger, and an explosion from one of his devices ended up killing his wife. Adam blames his father, and Otto Matic thinks he is correct.

But Adam isn't satisfied with threatening his father. Instead, he breaks into the Racer facilities and booby-traps the Mach Five. The next day, when Speed passes Adam on the final lap, Adam activates the bomb and blows up the Mach Five, only to have the same explosion blind him and cause another crash... from which Adam does not survive.

Adam Matic's funeral is attended by Speed, who speaks about his one-time adversary in glowing terms, until Dr. Otto Matic shows up with a robot he calls Adam 2.0. At a meeting with the racing commission, Otto Matic says he intends to let his "new" son drive his cars for him, and when Pops Racer says that driving requires a human heart, the robot opens his chest cavity to show that he does have one... Adam's old heart! Then Racer X shows up to say that he has no fear of driving against Adam 2.0 and tells everyone to let him race... they will soon see he can't beat a human driver.

He also teases Speed with a reference that he knew Speed's brother, Rex Racer, and drives off. Back at Otto Matic's mansion, the robot wants to know how "he" died. When his father won't tell him, the robot looks it up himself and finds the articles on the race in the computer, and comes to the conclusion that Speed killed him, so Speed Racer must die.

At the next triple threat race, Dr. Matic intends to monitor "Adam 2", so that he can't do anything wrong, but Adam takes his own initiative and tries to kill Speed by driving him off the road. Failing to do so, Adam drives his car directly into Speed's pushing him off a cliff and putting him in the hospital, as well as trashing the Mach 5. Speed is saved by his brother, in the guise of a racer named Prince Kabala by a blood transfusion of the same rare type of blood.

Since the Mach 5 is pretty much totaled, Pops racer constructs a new Car, the Mach 6. Speed doesn't like it as much as the old one, but when he and his girlfriend Trixie take it for a test drive, they are ambushed by Adam 2 who kidnaps Trixie and demands another race from Speed, this time with the prize of Trixie's life! He steals the Mach 6, so Speed and his father must try to get the Mach 5 race-ready again. But they find the car has been stolen. Can they track down the thieves and recover the car? And if they can, get they get it ready in time to race the demented Adam 2? And even if he beats the robot in the race, how can he shut him down so that he will never trouble Speed again? Dr. Otto Matic has one idea, but it will take a single, microscopically small chance for Speed to be able to do it... Can he do it in time?

This manga was rather a surprise for me. I used to watch the anime when I was much, much younger, and I was familliar with many of the characters, a lot of whom appear in the manga here, some named (Speed's brother Spritle and his pet ape Chim-chim, Racer X, Prince Kabala, Trixie) and some go unnamed (Inspector Detector and Speed's Mechanic Sparky). The names, too, are reminiscent of the earlier anime (Otto Matic).

But the story is new to the manga, and the style of art, while different, is more manga-inspired while being true to the characters and character design. It managed to mate the new with the old and combine them into a refreshing whole, one that draws on the best of each to tell a new story that could easily have fit into the old series.

And although this book is in honor of the new summer movie, as far as I can tell, the book doesn't seem to be anything like the new movie at all, in art or production design. And as far as I am concerned, that's a good thing. I'm glad I read this manga. It was enjoyable and brought back the memories of my past in a good way.

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