Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem is published by Titan Books and written by Sean Cummings. Before Spike fled the Red Dragon Syndicate and before a woman named Julia came along, Spike(Fearless) and Vicious were trusted partners in the biggest crime syndicate in the system. But Why Tho? What had forged this bond between these two individuals that feel worlds apart from each other? Here we find some of the answers to these questions.
While I knew all along that this book was a prequel to Netflix‘s live-action Cowboy Bebop series, I had presumed that its central character would be Spike. This doesn’t end up being the case. Rather than having this story focus on the fan-favorite character, Cummings’s story puts the spotlight on Vicious. The book explores the man’s origins, his first encounters with his syndicate partner Fearless, as well as other revelations that seek to explain the man’s personality and his connections to several characters in the series. While Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem does give explanations for some of these personal connections it is hampered by a massive problem. This version of Vicious is still a pale comparison to the anime original.
It feels like this book set out to accomplish two things. Explain some of Vicoius’s ties to characters, which it does well, and give the reader a greater sense of sympathy for Vicious. This latter focus fails miserably.
Now don’t get me wrong. Vicious’s upbringing at the hands of a father who never missed an opportunity to remind his son that he was an abject failure certainly warrants compassion. That sort of coldness from a parental figure is one of the worst cruelties a child can endure. The extremes that Vicious’s father goes to in his attempts to “toughen up” his son are nothing short of twisted. I even have a basic enough understanding of psychology to understand how, despite how cruelly Vicious is treated by his father, he remains fixated on gaining the old man’s approval. But so many of the setbacks, failures, and life-threatening dangers that Vicious and Fearless end up facing come squarely from Vicious’s complete lack of competence in everything he does that it tramples over the sympathy the story seeks to build for the character, replacing it with frustration. It gets so bad that I can’t believe an interplanetary crime syndicate would even allow Vicious to be a part of it on any level. The only thing that keeps Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem from completely failing to entertain is the presence of Fearless. Though this still comes with some caveats.
Setting aside the fact that he is called Fearless instead of Spike here, though the book does explain where the moniker comes from, Fearless is frequently entertaining and feels like a character that could become the Spike Spiegal I love. And no, I’m not talking about the live-action version, but rather the original series. That this character could be a predecessor of the heart-broken wanderer that is drifting through space clinging to the hope of reuniting with the love of his life is completely believable to me. However, since he is the forerunner of the live-action series, this character comes across decidedly differently. Rather than a previous evolution of Spike’s personality, Fearless feels like a near copy of the character viewers meet in the series. This closeness undercuts the profound impact of the events that drove him from the Syndicate are supposed to have on his life.
The story itself is told in two distinct parts. In the primary story, Vicious and Fearless have been stuck in low-level Syndicate jobs for years as they struggle to prove themselves to their bosses. When the duo finds themselves caught in the middle of a gang war between their organization and another, they soon find themselves on the run with little support from anyone.
The secondary thread that runs through this book jumps back to the duo’s teen years and how they first meet. This plotline intends to impress upon the reader why Farless sticks with his old friend despite Vicious’s many, obvious shortcomings that are likely to get both of them killed. It fails. Rather, it cements the impression that Fearless sticks with his partner purely due to a sense of pity for the boy he met whose father was so cruel to him. I’ve allowed people to stick around in my life too long due to an overly strong sense of pity, but even I would’ve cut and run long before the primary storyline of this book took place. My suspension of disbelief just falls far too short to accept Fearless’s desire to stick with his friend.
Beyond the pair of main characters themselves, Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem delivers a decent enough story on a page-to-page level. The plot has a couple of interesting twists and some of the supporting characters are well crafted and enjoyable. I particularly liked the duo’s closest ally in the story, Goldie. After just a single appearance in the book, I was wishing Fearless would ditch Vicious’s dead weight and team up with her.
Sadly, when all is said and done, Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem‘s solid plot can’t make up for the weakness of its primary character. Vicious fails on almost every level as an enticing main character. Despite his sympathetic origins with his father, he too frequently causes far too much trouble for himself to truly gain the reader’s sympathy.
Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem is available now wherever books are sold.
Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem
Sadly, when all is said and done, Cowboy Bebop: A Syndicate Story: Red Planet Requiem‘s solid plot can’t make up for the weakness of its primary character. Vicious fails on almost every level as an enticing main character.