Last year, I did one of these every week for more than three months. If anyone loved them, I didn't hear from 'em, but I enjoy doing 'em, so I'll be starting these again--albeit more sporadically--in 2017.
At any rate, this week, I'm talking about Min-Woo Hyung's GHOSTFACE.
We talked about Hyung's work PRIEST in a previous edition of MM. It was one of my favorites - a fantastic action-filled horror story that brought up a lot of interesting and heavy questions concerning religion, what it means to humanity and to individuals and whether beings as insignificant as humans can even have meaningful relationships with their gods, being one-sided as they necessarily are.
GHOSTFACE, on the other hand, seems to be simply an action-thriller. Supposedly inspired by Hyung's being a fan of the American rapper Ghostface Killah, this comic revolves around a fictional island where, sometime in the first half of the 20th century, a group of criminals, after escaping from one of the world's most hardcore prisons, set up a sort of self-imposed exile colony, with the rest of the world's unspoken agreement to leave them alone so long as they never left. When other criminals around the world heard of this, they flocked there, willingly giving up whatever freedom they might have had in the outside world for a chance to escape punishment for their crimes. The catch? No one can leave the island. Ever. They will be summarily executed by authorities from the outside world's various governments if they do and are noticed. Worse, if they leave and try to come back, their own people will kill them. The denizens of the island term people who have left "Ghostfaces" because, presumably, they are dead to the island's society. It kind of doesn't fit, does it? It's a rather clumsy use of a name that Hyung had almost certainly decided on using before coming up with the premise.
So nobody leaves and it isn't an issue. Until someone does: an unnamed denizen of the island shows up on the mainland, performs an incredibly daring robbery of a secret lab owned by one of the world's largest corporations and steals an experimental drug designed to make people into super-soldiers. They were unable to stop him, but manage to track him back to the island (initially the corporation doesn't know if he's escaping to the island or returning to it), sending a group of corporate commandos after him. Their goal is to retrieve or destroy the drug and make it back off the island without what passes for its authorities knowing they were there, as it would set off an international incident.
Of course, it doesn't work out as planned and they are almost immediately found out. The man who stole the drug has, of course, used it (all of it, apparently, the reader is sort of shown; we're left to assume he's used it all, anyway) on himself and become an insanely powerful being of unmatched fighting prowess, slaughtering most of the commando team - except for a lone, female survivor, who is rescued by the current king of the island (pictured on the cover above), a mysterious man who has animal-like powers of his own. Being as she needs to get back whatever remains of the drug and find out why it was stolen in the first place (was the criminal hired by a corporate rival? Did he somehow find out about the drug on his own? And if so, how?) and the king of the island must destroy this "ghostface" to preserve the island's traditions and his own place of power, they team up.
While a somewhat lengthy recap, it's a pretty basic set up when you get down it - and that's where the first volume (actually only two chapters of the comic; I believe the original Korean edition had four chapters) ends.
A few things:
First, this is in full-color, an opinion about which I'm undecided on. It took me a bit to get used to Hyung's art in PRIEST. From a technical standpoint, it's not especially good, but he has an amazing ability to use negative space to maximum effect and his artwork is some of the best I've ever seen at conveying motion. His artwork often seems as if it's moving on the page of its own accord. In color--which frankly, varied between not very good and excellent, as if it was done by multiple people (which it may have been, considering how manga and manhwa artists have stables of assistants)--much of that is lost. The color, when it's good, gives some new and interesting facets to the art that aren't present in Hyung's black and white art, but I almost think I would have preferred to see this strictly in black and white to make full use of Hyung's artistic strengths.
Second, the story is very, very thin. There's simply not much to start off with and Hyung makes little attempt to build on it. Granted, this first volume is only two 70ish-page chapters, but I just don't see how he could go much beyond the simple search, fight, chase and repeat scenario he's set up here.
Not that it even matters ultimately because...
Like PRIEST, it seems GHOSTFACE was never completed, going on hiatus after five volumes were published in Korea and never being resumed. Funny, since Hyung quit PRIEST (after 16 volumes, literally in the middle of freakin' fight scene) to do GHOSTFACE.
In PRIEST, Hyung showed that he's one of those creators who may not be at the highest point artistically but nevertheless has a knack for using his talents to maximum effect and putting together a hell of story. In GHOSTFACE, it really felt like he just had a cool title he wanted to use and his reputation allowed him to do it.
Don't get me wrong, I liked GHOSTFACE for what it was.
I liked being able to see a different side of Hyung as a creator. And I only paid $3 for the book so I feel I got my money's worth. If there was more available in English before the first volume, and I could find them cheaply, I think I'd probably read more of it, but I don't feel like I can recommend it to anyone unless they, too, can find it for dirt-cheap and fully prepared to read a story without an ending.