The perpetual dance between good and evil has been chronicled in human storytelling for centuries and our fascination with the topic exists to this day in the myriad of crime novels, television shows and movies that are readily at our disposal. In the 40’s crime dramas were all the rage in Hollywood and their popularity continues to influence modern filmmakers. Film noir was the birthplace of crooked cops, femme fatales, gangsters and detectives who crossed each other’s paths in a dangerous and sexually charged zip code. From the Big Heat to Murder My Sweet to The Postman Always Rings Twice, film noir exposed the underbelly of fictional cinematic societies and made audiences willing accomplices to the unsavoury actions depicted on screen.
Although the golden age of film noir came to an end in the late 50’s, its subject matter continues to grace the silver screen and the printed page. Raging Bull, Basic Instinct, Miami Vice, Pulp Fiction and Momento are all examples of films or TV shows that continue to tell stories in the noir style. The genre has also found its way into comics with such titles as 100 Bullets and Kenichi Sonoda’s Gunsmith Cats.
Created, written and illustrated by Kenichi Sonoda, Gunsmith Cats first appeared in the February 1991 issue of Japanese publisher’s Afternoon manga magazine. Gunsmith Cats ran for seven years until the series came to an end in 1997. In 1995, Dark Horse Comics began publishing an English adaptation of the series for North American audiences. Dark Horse’s adaptation of Gunsmith Cats, converted into English by Studio Proteus, was published on a monthly basis from 1995 to 2001.
Gunsmith Cats revolved around its two central characters: 19 year-old bounty hunter Irene “Rally” Vincent and 18 year old former prostitute turned munitions expert, “Minnie” May Hopkins. According to an interview between Sonoda and Studio Proteus in the Gunsmith Cats: Bonnie and Clyde trade paperback, “Gunsmith Cats is a rollicking action story about a tough, female bounty hunter and her dangerous buddies who fight drug gangs and extortionists in the mean streets of Chicago.” Although the two lead characters continued a line of female dynamic duos in pop culture (e.g., Thelma and Louise, Wonder Woman and Wonder Girl, Zena and Gabrielle), the sex and violence depicted in the original series would probably face harsher public scrutiny if published today, especially considering Rally and May’s ages and appearances. While the series was intended for mature readers, Rally frequently ended up shirtless – wearing just her bra – and some of May’s sex scenes were removed, with Sonoda’s approval, in the North American edition.
Heavily influenced by American movies like The Blues Brothers and The French Connection, Sonada included many of the elements contained in those types of films in his manga. Those elements, along with Sonada’s attention to detail and passion for guns and cars gave Gunsmith Cats an authenticity and style that made it feel like the comic book version of a Quentin Tarantino film.
“The Bonnie and Clyde” storyline encompassed the first six issues of the series (“Feeding Trouble”, “Revolver Freak”, “Bonnie and Clyde”, “Hot Feeding”, “Burst”, and “CZ75”) and begins with Rally and May being hired to track down a fellow named Dodge, who is scheduled to testify against drug kingpin, John Harper. Complicating matters are the brother and sister duo of Bonnie and Clyde who have been contracted to eliminate Dodge before he can stand trial. What ensues is an explosion of gunfire, car chases and body parts as Rally and May’s assignment collides with Bonnie and Clyde’s murderous intentions.
With the success of the original manga in Japan, Gunsmith Cats was adapted into an anime in the mid 1990’s. The OVA consisted of three episodes and featured an original storyline. After the original manga series came to an end, Rally and May were revived with a sequel, Gunsmith Cats: Burst, in the mid 2000’s. Burst was published in Japan in the summer of 2005 and ran for three years. Dark Horse published the English version of Burst beginning in the spring of 2007 until its conclusion in 2010.
Despite some t & a elements that may not be well received by modern audiences, Gunsmith Cats, with the right director and a good screenplay, has enough action, gunplay and car chases to produce an entertaining film. Considering the resurgence of crime dramas in recent years and the tendency for Hollywood to use comic books as its muse, it’ll be interesting to see if anyone uses Gunsmith Cats as a vehicle to get more female comic book characters onto the silver screen.