Manhwa-ga: JinJun Park
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2009
Synopsis: “Irel Clark is a professor’s assistant whose latest find is the “Holy Grail” for members of his profession- literally! But when it turns out that some decidedly unholy individuals are also after the blood of Christ, Irel must drink from the chrism bottle he’s recovered to save his own life. Immortality leaves something to be desired, though, when un-dead cannibals walk the earth in constant need of human flesh, and Irel’s newly immortal body is nothing short of an all-you-can-eat buffet!”
After reading some of Yen Press’s shoujo manhwa output, I was pleased to encounter a new series with a strong focus on extensive property damage and undead minions in place of the usual fluff. Full of violence, action, and gore, Raiders offers us some excellent manhwa action. Although, as indicated in the synopsis, it goes for some wackier subject matter than most, and may offend some.
Irel starts out as a simple assistant researcher, off on yet another quest for the Holy Grail with the Professor he works for, kind of a more academic Indiana Jones-type. Things quickly go bad for all involved and Irel, finding himself trapped, opts to drink the blood of Christ, thus healing all his wounds and making him immortal. Visually, this mostly involves him getting gruesomely wounded then quickly healing up, Wolverine-style, thus leading him to befriend the initially antagonistic woman who attacked them, Lamia. Lamia imprisons Irel, and he soon discovers more sympathetic aspects of her past. Whether it’s Stockholm syndrome or true friendship, he suddenly offers himself as a sustainable food source to the undead girl, and they quickly have to face a somewhat more sinister threat of undead warriors sent by a sinister priest.
Irel’s a bit of a pushover despite being a fairly focused scholar, and Lamia’s social awkwardness given her undead state makes for a bizarre pairing, especially as a cutesy schoolgirl and a hulking monster chase them around city streets. Each character is compelled to find more out about the ‘chrism bottles‘, giving them something to bond over, though still leaving a considerable amount of uncertainty as each has their own secrets. A subplot is introduced with an ambitious police detective drawn to the sensationalistic cannibalism of cases that may or may not involve Lamia, and the first volume does a good job of setting up the cast for future stories, leaving us on a cliff-hanger in the middle of a major action scene.
Some may raise their eyebrows over the religious aspects of the series, along with how England-centric some of that content is given that much of early Christian history occurred elsewhere. But this is primarily a fantasy series, much like the works of Dan Brown. I think whether or not you find his works offensive should be a good way of determining whether or not this series would work for you. While most may accept the craziness and let it flow, others might find some concepts presented in the series unsettling.
While the violence is toned down compared to some horror series, the religious aspect adds a slight edge to it, and Korea being a country with a large population of Christians makes it mildly more authentic than some Japanese works. I’d place it alongside Saint Tail – a polar opposite content-wise, but similar in that it’s an integral aspect of the series rather then just a flashy add-on of cross imagery. In place of crosses, the focus on flesh and blood really works with the Christian theme to present a different take on the horror genre.
Outside the religious aspects, the gore itself is pretty limited compared to some Japanese series, but still present with a stronger focus on action. The slick and anime-styled nature of the artwork softens the more gruesome scenes, which Park does exhibit a talent for. Lamia might be a pretty anime girl, but Park doesn’t shy away from showing gnawing teeth and rotten flesh, bringing the zombie aspects of the series coming to the forefront when required.
Park‘s artwork is very visually appealing overall, though I suspect it may have been better served had Yen Press stuck with the larger trim used on the manhwa from their Ice Kunion catalogue. Many of the lines are fairly thin, and it‘s unsure if this is an intended affect, or a result of shrinking it down to the usual manga digest size. However, it still makes for a dramatic look, with a focus on thin, wispy lines and deep, solid blacks, relying less on screen tones. The artwork flows naturally, with lots of accomplished perspective shots and decently detailed backgrounds that compliment the flowing nature of the action scenes. Detailed cityscapes are combined with elaborate car chases and crashes, given some of the action occurs on a city street, and landmarks like the London Bridge can be found in the backgrounds.
In terms of character looks, I found a handful of characters a bit on the skinny side, particularly Chris the detective, but it adds to the slightly horrific look with so many walking corpses about. Lamia is visually striking, varying from an unemotional teenager to a monstrous zombie to a threatening Hellsing-esque warrior, while still adhering to her core look, and occasionally allowing her inner emotions to surface with the troubled Irel.
While Yen Press did opt for a more traditional presentation with the digest-sized trim, they include the bonus of a colour insert, which reuses the lineart of the cover against a red backdrop, a stylish touch that doubles for a contents page. As there are no author notes, Yen Press opted to use the extra space to advertise another new manhwa series, Laon. A nice offering, but some extras would have been nice. Long-time comics fans will find it notable that the rewrite for the series is provided by indy comics writer/editor Jamie S. Rich, who delivers an entertaining, natural sounding conversational style to the text, suited to the European setting of the series.
I’d recommend Raiders to those looking for a light horror or zombie manga series, yet one with a slight note of caution if you’re wary of stories with religious themes. Otherwise, volume one is solid storytelling with highly stylized artwork that like much of manhwa works off of Japanese influences while avoiding a lot of current trends. With a wide array of character designs that provide unique and diverse visuals, fairly constant action, and quieter character scenes that balance it all out, volume one of Raiders makes for a compelling read.