Book Review: Lee and Cho’s Phantom

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By Luke Forney

Comics in the United States have enjoyed a long history, and the genre seems to be in the middle of its largest grasp on popularity yet. Thus it was inevitable that comics from outside the United States would start to hit stateside shores. First came the British, especially with 2000 A.D., and the authors who grew out of that tradition, including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mark Millar, and all of the other members of comics’ British Invasion. Much more recently, the popularity of manga, Japanese comics, has seen a huge upswing, from Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Black Jack, MW) to Kentaro Miura’s ultraviolent fantasy, Berserk. It was only a matter of time that comics from another country became popular. It appears as though the next country’s comics to achieve mass popularity in America might be South Korea.

South Korean comics, called manhwa, are slowly starting to make a mark in the United States, with the most evident example being Priest, written and drawn by Min-Woo Hyung, which was recently made into the movie of the same name starring Paul Bettany. However, there is far more out there, with a vast variety of subjects, including Hyung-Tae Kim’s OXIDE, the manhwa adaption of the videogame ArchLord by Jin-Hwan Park, the gender-bending Devil’s Bride by Se-Young Kim, and the incredibly popular Pink Lady, Yeon Woo’s internet manhwa romance about two childhood friends that reconnect at art school.

Another manhwa out there, applicable to science fiction fans, is Phantom. Written by Ki-Hoon Lee, with art by Seung-Yup Cho, Phantom is the story of a cop named K in a future Seoul, where crime runs rampant on the outskirts of the city, and the interior of Seoul is run by large corporations with their hands in all the right government pockets. K lives his life without questioning the system, working as a pilot in a gigantic humanoid machine stopping crime. However, after one of the terrorists attacking the corporations continues to evade him, his frustration leads to cracks in his unquestioning faith in the system. When he sees this same terrorists, who (of course) turns out to be a beautiful woman, about to be murdered by corporation agents, K leaves his role as cop and finds himself trapped between a organization he has been told his whole life is a hot bed of terrorism, and a government that doesn’t waqnt him to return to his normal life.

The focus on the large machines is one that masy only appeal to a certain crowd of people (those who enjoyed Robotech, Gundam, etc.), but it mixes lots of action with a decent plot, and is a ton of fun to read.Fans of near future science fiction, anti-establishment fiction, and lots of explosions will find much to enjoy here.

Phantom doesn’t try for deep musings on the abuse of power in government, or the true meaning of “terrorist.” It simply focuses on big machines beating each other to pieces, and the relationship trauma K goes through as everything he cares about is taken from him. Phantom isn’t necessarily “great” comics work, but it isn’t trying to be, and it doesn’t need to be. It wants to be fast-paced, action-packed, and fun, and it achieves all of this is spades.

The English translation was being published by TokyoPop, which recently shut down. This means that for a very limited time, these volumes are dirt cheap on Amazon, so don’t wait to check out this series.

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Marvel Cosmic, Part 1: Annihilation, or Marvel Comics Rediscovers the Cosmic

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by Luke Forney

No one has ever accused Marvel Comics of not wringing every character idea for all the potential it might have, and then some. They have borrowed ideas from other publishers, such as revamping The Justice League of America and creating The Avengers, taking the idea of a team of the publishers best heroes and adapting it to Marvel’s slightly less Superman-esque brand. Marvel then adapted JLA again, this time creating the Superman-analogue Hyperion and The Squadron Supreme. Even the Avengers have been stretched to use as much as possible, with four ongoing series at the moment: Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Academy. One could say the same of the X-Men, currently featuring NINE ongoing series, as well as three more related to Wolverine, and a few other character-centric, rather than team-centric, issues. All this means that, when Marvel decided to make a copy of their highly successful Spider-Man thirty-five years ago, it came as no great surprise to anyone.

That this copy only began to hit the pinnacle of its success in 2006, however, was.

In 1976, the ever-inventive Marv Wolfman, assisted on art duties by John Buscema, put out Nova #1. Selling itself on the cover as being “In the Marvelous Tradition of Spider-Man!” the new character’s origin doesn’t try very hard to distance itself from its intellectual cousin. Richard Rider proves, on the opening page, to be inept at sports, costing his team a basketball game, before further demonstrating his Peter Parker-style social awkwardness. Yet, when he is surprisingly gifted with cosmic powers by the dying alien Rhomann Dey, he sets out to protect the world, because (as his spiritual namesake would say) “with great power comes great responsibility.”

Yet Nova’s original series lasted only 25 issues, followed by a second series in 1994 that reached 18 issues, and a floundering 1999 series that lasted all of seven issues. Despite the cool cosmic powers, Richard Rider was no Peter Parker, and perhaps more importantly wasn’t written and illustrated as well, either.

Nova’s biggest success came when he joined the New Warriors, a super-powered team formed by Night Thrasher. Lasting 75 issues, the first volume of The New Warriors (lasting six years after its 1990 beginnings) is the longest series that Nova has been attached to. There was a brief return in 1999, but the second series lasted only ten issues. In 2005, Nova and the New Warriors reunited for a final time (the fourth New Warriors featuring a drastically different team) in a six issue mini-series that also lead into Marvel’s event, Civil War. However, before Civil War really and truly began, Nova had set off for a war that would make the super hero battles seem like chump change.

Finally, in 2006, Marvel reignited the character, their cosmic superhero scene, and everything fans loved about the great space comics of the 1960s and ‘70s.

Drax the Destroyer: Earth Fall, released in 2005, had a spaceship crash-land on Earth. This spaceship was full of the worst criminals space could offer, along with the sometimes heroic Drax. With the help of a young girl, Drax fights the alien convicts, before the duo heads to space. They arrive just in time for the main event.

The galaxy-wide Annihilation event began with Annihilation: Prologue, which set the stage for a war bigger than anything ever seen in Marvel comics. Annihilus, escaping the Negative Zone, set out to remake the universe in his image, with the planets of the three major sentient species in his path. Told through four diverging mini-series (Annihilation: Nova, Annihilation: Silver Surfer, Annihilation: Super Skrull, and Annihilation: Ronan), the series shows the advancing “Annihilation Wave” as it reaches to the planets of two of the major sentient species, the Kree and the Skrull. The four series crash together for the main event, Annihilation, which sets out the war between the forces of the Kree and Skrull survivors as well as the Human contingent, set against the Annihilation Wave. The entire saga, from Drax the Destroyer: Earth Fall through Annihilation, as well as the aftermath stories from Annihilation: Heralds of Galactus, can be found in the three volume collection under the title Annihilation.

Written predominantly by Keith Giffen (with one series by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who become the architects of Marvel Cosmic for the next half-decade), Annihilation might be the single greatest space opera I have ever read in graphic novel format. The saga is epic in scope, as Annihilus seeks to take over the universe, and many heroes try to stop him, with a number of major figures playing on the outskirts of the battle, in shades of grey. The series is written to be accessible to new readers, and is very easy to jump into. Taking the best of high-budget science fiction movie epics, and adding even more action, along with brilliant writing from Giffen, Annihilation is a comic that all space opera and military science fiction fans will love. And once you give it a shot, you will be heading for the next part of the saga with bated breath.

Check back in a couple weeks for the next installment, featuring the beginning of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning’s Nova and Annihilation: Conquest, as we walk through the new Marvel Cosmic Universe.

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