Written by Andrez Bergen — Mitzi (surname unknown) is a character who won’t die. She appears throughout Andrez Bergen’s oeuvre, which stretches across genres and forms, with influences from high-tech sci-fi and classic crime noir worn prominently on the sleeve. His graphic novels, short stories and novellas have been put out by a range of indie publishers, with a decent collection of them reviewed here in our archives.
Tokyo-based, Australian-born Bergen draws from an unbelievable range of sources for this novella, based on the graphic novel series of the same name. References to classic film noir sit alongside ones to Showa era Japanese kitsch, early 60s American superheroes, and the early history of Melbourne – did you know, for instance, that Australia’s second largest city was almost called Batmania, after one of its founders, John Batman?
In Bergen’s near-future world, Melbourne is the last city on Earth. The rest of the world has been wiped out by an unnamed plague, with the richest buying their way into the only city left unaffected. The survivors quickly build a wall, to keep the illness out. The hero of the novella, Lee, is a designer who builds virtual reality worlds as training grounds for the elite guards who protect Melbourne. In his spare time he designs a city called Heropa, a place where people can live out their dreams of being a superhero. Lee is a Japanophile, in love with a woman named Mina, until he loses Mina and must descend into Heropa’s pastiche streets to look for her.
Heropa is a world where the familiar mixes with the weird. A hastily-assembled group of superheroes protect the citizens, with names like Captain Patriot, Big Game Hunter and The Milkcrate Man. Joining them is Bullet Gal – Mitzi doesn’t like the name, or the costume, but it could be worse. Shortly after arriving in Heropa from parts unknown, Mitzi finds herself targeted from all sides. A sinister gang, led by a French femme diabolique, wants her dead, while eight identical men, all doppelgangers of a young Max von Sydow, are double-crossing each other to get to her. Will Mitzi survive, and will she ever find out the truth about Heropa? And will she ever make it out alive?
I always love seeing my adopted hometown of Melbourne represented on the page – although Bergen’s Melbourne is almost unrecognisable. It’s closer to the city of Portvieux from Kat Clay’s Double Exposure, another work by a Melbourne author.
Bergen’s prose is razor sharp and highly original, despite every page dripping with references to all manner of pop culture. The transition from comic book to novella hasn’t really been pulled off perfectly. The sections seem disjointed, functioning as short episodes rather than holding together as a single plot. The novella goes deeper into the plot than the graphic novels, of course, but the two forms are very different and novella of Bullet Gal could have used the possibilities of the form more, despite all its efforts. Readers who love spotting references, particularly readers who enjoy graphic novels, will find Bullet Gal a rewarding, even exhilarating read.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars