by Theron Martin,

King of Eden

volume 1

King of Eden
Here and there it happens: remote villages where all of the residents are massacred in brutal fashion, apparently by each other. At each site, an Asian man appears, kills the last survivor, and torches the bodies. Is he covering something up, or eliminating a terrible threat? As word spreads through terrorist networks about a potential new weapon – a sort of biological bomb called the Wolf virus – various intelligence organizations start moving in search of the arms merchants who seem to be involved. Dr. Rua Itsuki, a half-Korean, half-Japanese archeologist and doctor, gets called upon because of her studies on how viruses intersect with ancient history. Discovering that a former classmate may also be deeply involved in the mystery is only the first surprise in an investigation that leads to ghoulish creatures, werewolves, and a military expedition more than 2,500 years into the past.

This manga/manhwa (both terms technically apply) represents a collaboration between Japanese author Takashi Nagasaki and Korean artist Ignito, so one of the main characters being half-Korean, half-Japanese seems like a pointed statement. That is about the extent of the impact that the nationalities involved in the collaboration has on the project, however. This is, on the whole, a straight-up horror story flavored with some mild mystery elements, one which distinguishes itself a bit from others of its ilk by basing its backstory far back in history while also making connections to modern terrorism.

Though there are scattered stories throughout antiquity of people being turned into wolves, the earliest versions only temporarily involve the Neuri, a tribe that lived in the area that is now northern Ukraine and southern Belarus. While the stories about them turning into wolves for a few days each year are likely not true, King Darius I of Persia could have theoretically come into contact with them during his Scythian Campaign in 513 B.C, and he almost certainly traversed what is now eastern Romania in getting to that area. This story fits all of those details into its backstory to explain a Persian tomb in Romania and how that could be tied to the origin of the Wolf virus, a rabies-like disease which turns people into ghoulish creatures prone to extreme violence, though if they survive long enough they can achieve a werewolf-like form. That's some pretty involved research on which to base a story and is easily the most interesting and novel aspect of the story.

The writing further posits that the real threat to archeologists in discovering ancient tombs is long-sealed-away pathogens. The merits of this as the explanation for a mummy's curse are dubious, but it is an interesting theory that provides the second leg of the story's foundation. Still, the notion that diseases have shaped human history is hardly a novel one, and that lends a semblance of credibility to the explanations offered here. The story also throws the biblical Cain in for good measure, with the fanciful notion that the land Cain wandered in after being cast out by God was inhabited by nonhumans like werewolves. The title of the series might be a reference to this, but that has not been firmly established yet.

The one other interesting aspect of the story is the efforts to package and repurpose this virus as a weapon. Because it works fast but also burns out fast (because victims take to killing each other), it could make for an ideal terrorist weapon if handled properly. Indeed, efforts to test the Wolf virus out for precisely such an application explain the scattered hot spots, and one major subplot involves Middle Eastern terrorists angling to get their hands on it. That thread largely gets ignored in the later stages of this volume, however.

All of this is probably making the story sound more involved and academic than it is. The bulk of the content is actually standard monster story shenanigans: there are bursts of people turning into flesh-eating monsters, a mysterious figure who goes around cleaning those messes up, a bad guy who thinks he has more control over the monsters than he does, and a female scholarly type called in as an advisor who soon finds herself neck-deep in all of this mess, including being familiar with the mysterious guy. Fortunately, Dr. Itsuki is not a helpless victim here; she is shown being quite capable of performing a couple of martial arts styles, and credit to the artist for the precision in depicting some of the moves she makes. She does not use these techniques against the ghouls and werewolves, as those fights are always done with weapons, but she stays more active than heroines in these stories commonly do.

The real attraction of this series is, of course, its extreme graphic violence. The cover art suggests this, and only a few pages are required before a doge with its limbs chewed off and entrails exposed shows up. While not pervasive, piles of bodies with chewed-up limbs, exposed bones, and other grotesqueness are regular visual features; I advise against eating while reading this unless you have an especially strong stomach. Ignito's artistic talents are not just limited to the horror elements, either. He favors a realistic rather than interpretive or manga-styled approach to character designs and has the skill to pull it off, even to the point of subtly working in racial features usually not easy to depict in drawn form, and is equally skilled at depicting characters of all ages. While his staging of action scenes is not the most dynamic out there, they are nonetheless easy to follow, and background art lacks for nothing. This is a quality artistic effort.

The digital version available for review from Yen Press clocked in at a heady 409 pages, of which the first 70 or so are done in color (albeit mostly restrained and earthy coloring.) It offers nothing for extras, not even an author/artist Afterword. Despite a basic story, it looks good enough, and has an involved enough base to its premise, that I can give it a mild recommendation for horror fans.

Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A

+ Character design quality, handling of grotesque content, interesting historical references
Very basic story once you get past the set-up

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Production Info:
Story: Takashi Nagasaki

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