Reading this new volume of manga adventure after polishing off the lightweight first collection is as shocking as discovering that the wand of cotton candy in your hand has a fiberglass core. The story's setting, a desert planet resembling the Old West, has encouraged the creation of larger-than-life characters who can get away with all kinds of bizarre behavior. One such character is the universally feared Vash the Stampede, who is not a murderous desperado but actually a man devoted to not killing any of the horde that's after the bounty on his head. Nightow hits readers with an avalanche of background information showing Vash as a child on the spaceship that brought settlers to the planet centuries ago. He saw Knives, one of the crew, try to sabotage the mission because he believed humanity had no right to exist. Ever since, Vash has been trying to keep descendants of the original settlers alive, but now Knives is being restored to life and sending a wave of assassins after Vash. From this unexpectedly serious premise, the story careens all over the place. Earlier characters are shoved aside, while new ones hover at the action's periphery. The conclusion suggests that neither Knives nor Vash were what they seemed, let alone altogether human. The art's raw kinetic energy makes each page fascinating, but readers may find their eyes are blinking and their ears are ringing when they put the book down. (Jan.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.