One Punch Reviews #41: How I Killed Your Master
The title to Brian Clevinger and John Wood’s How I Killed Your Master is a reference to the CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother. On the TV show, the narrator, Ted Mosby (voiced by none other than Bob Saget), recounts the adventures of his younger self to his future children, which supposedly leads up to how he met their mother. (And, frankly, it gets a little disturbing, since most of it is about his and his friends’ sexual exploits. Call me old fashioned, but that doesn’t seem like appropriate bedtime story material.)
How I Killed Your Master employs a similar framing device: Master Chan Sen and his army breaks into the home of Master Liu Wong, seeking vengeance for the death of his master, Xu Li, long ago. Master Liu, though, strikes a deal: Chan Sen can strike him down now, or he can learn how to become even more powerful than his dead master. Chan Sen, figuring that Wong is a dead man either way, decides to take Wong up on his offer and sits down with him for some tea. And thus begins How I Killed Your Master, which flashes back to when the currently elderly Wong is just a young boy in the service of Master Fei.
Brian Clevinger, is, of course, the man behind 8-Bit Theater (reviewed here), and How I Killed Your Master — along with Warbot in Accounting and 2008 Eisner Nominee for Best Limited Series print comic Atomic Robo — is part of what seems to be his latest attempt to make amends with the comic world for being the primary, accidental instigator to the entire “sprite comic” trend (despite 8-Bit Theater easily being the best of the bunch). HIKYM and 8-Bit Theater share many thematic similarities, though, in that both take well known properties and reshape them into something novel. With 8-Bit Theater, it was taking a Final Fantasy game and turning it into a buddy comedy. HIKYM is more subtle, turning the familiar elements of a kung-fu movie and building it around a framework of first-person narration and flashbacks.
The format lets Clevinger hop around to several key moments on Wong’s life without dwelling too much on them. When Master Fei takes Wong under his wing, we’re only suggested the training under his care before we move to the next phase of Wong’s life. Then he gets his butt kicked at another martial arts school where he learns another new technique. And then we move on.
While I think HIKYM would’ve benefited by taking a breather at some points, I thought the breakneck clip of the storytelling helped to cultivate an atmosphere of urgency. Elements that seem to pop out of nowhere, like a flashback about Wong getting attacked by two ruffians, end up becoming integral to the identity of the man that Wong would later kill. In another part of the story, Wong and his girl-… er … female friend, Fang Lin, serendipitously find a MacGuffin, which leads them both into peril and a meeting with another person of importance. It’s as if unseen forces are steering Wong toward his destiny.
The swift pacing didn’t hurt the character development, either. It doesn’t really matter, in the end, how or why Wong killed Chan Sen’s master. Rather, we’re left wondering whether, at some point, the story will touch Chan Sen’s heart and stay his blade … or whether this is all part of some elaborate trap on Wong’s part. But, really the big question is: how did Wong transform from a scrawny kid who was pushed around by house servants into a man so powerful that you need to raise an army just to get to him?
Rating: Four Stars (out of 5).