Spring has left me unsprung. Here’s a short, just-the-facts review. In the meantime, if you’re looking for some high-quality snark, check out Noah Berlatsky’s attacks on Jeffrey Brown, Art Spiegelman and art comics in general (h/t Mssrs Deppey and Mautner). Whether or not you agree (hey, I like Ware, Sacco and Brunetti), Berlatsky writes a fun hatchet-job. It’s schadenfreude for the masses!
Banya: The explosive deliveryman, Kim Young-Oh. Dark Horse, 2006. $12.95, 184 pages.
Two sides face one another on a battlefield, poised in a moment of silence. And then they attack, clashing furious and violent. Meanwhile a mysterious figure stands alone on an overlooking hill. Having surveyed the combat zone, he sneaks his way through and into the besieged castle at the centre of the conflict. He reaches the castle’s general just in time to save his life and introduce himself:
“I’m…fast, precise, secure. Someone with a delivery. I’m Banya of the postal service.”
Thus begins Banya, a fantasy adventure about couriers. What Kevin Costner’s The Postman did for the postal service in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, Banya does for the postal service in fantasy-land. Ever wondered how Aragorn, son of Arathorn sent his Christmas cards to Bloznor, son of Throgden? Then this is the manhwa for you.
Although this high-concept is fun, it’s hamstrung by the generic fantasy setting here. The world of Banya reads as though cobbled together from a couple of old Dungeons and Dragons Monster Manuals. Giant dogs, sand worms, dragons, vicious
orcs…sorry, “torren”…all show up in a vaguely medieval period. At least this fantasyland is oriental, so the soldiers and swordsmen are kitted out a little differently from what English-speakers are used to from fifty years of Lord of the Rings rip-offs.
Where Banya shines, however, is Young-Oh’s kinetic and detailed art. He shows his chops early on with a two-page splash of the battlefield, hundreds of soldiers in bloody combat. Young-Oh draws an especially nice forest, the trees narrow and barren, branches ramifying to infinity. He’s tapping into the same romantic idea of the forest as Gustave Dore or Caspar David Friedrich. Against dreamy gothic landscapes like the forest or desert, Young-Oh places his three young protagonists, Banya and his fellow couriers, wide-eyed and fresh-faced adolescents.
The first third of this volume is basically stage-setting, introducing the basic premise and our plucky young courier heroes. The rest of the volume features one specific delivery, which brings the couriers into conflict with some deadly ninja-assassin-soldier types. This plot is unresolved by the end of the volume (a slight 180 pages), making the overall experience a little unsatisfying.
Still, it’s fun and fast-paced. There are worse ways to spend your time.
Recommended? A visceral bit of genre entertainment well executed, if derivative and frustratingly incomplete.
IYL: Lord of the Rings or the general style it inspired of (I’m embarrassed even to type this phrase) “high fantasy” epics.