Quick comic comments: Fourths

June 1, 2007

Not long ago, I posted a list of my favorite comics created by women. Not long after that, an Amazon shipment showed up containing fourth volumes of two series that could be added to the list if they keep building on their strengths.

The first is Marley’s Dokebi Bride (Netcomics), which neatly invests magic-girl storytelling with shockingly raw adolescent angst. For those of you who haven’t been following the series, it’s about Sunbi, granddaughter of a village shaman who is forced to move to Seoul after her grandmother’s death. Sunbi has inherited the maternal line’s ability to interact with spirits, but she’s untrained in the responsibilities and dangers of a shaman’s existence. Between the abilities she neither wants nor understands and a reintroduction to a father she barely remembers (not to mention his new wife and stepdaughter), Sunbi’s adjustment to her new circumstances is going fairly poorly, to say the least.

Sunbi doesn’t want to acclimate to either the supernatural or the everyday. What little mastery she’s achieved of her shamanistic heritage is used to keep people at a distance, no matter how benevolent their intentions may be. (And it’s to Marley’s credit that characters like the stepmother aren’t one-dimensional obstacles; she recognizes that negative reactions to her brittle heroine are natural, even reasonable.) But the sense that Sunbi must reconcile the disparate elements of her life is pervasive. She’s at a dangerous crossroads, and watching her navigate the territory is very compelling.

Then there’s Fuyumi Soryo’s ES (Del Rey), which combines a character-driven sensibility with science-fiction suspense. Brilliant but socially awkward Dr. Mine Kujyou has found herself in the middle of a cold war between two mysterious, powerful creatures. Isaac and Akiba are the results of genetic engineering, invested with chilling psychic powers and nothing resembling conventional morality. Akiba takes a benignly curious view of humanity, for the most part, but Isaac views them with a sociopath’s disinterest, playing brutal games that accentuate (and punish) the uglier aspects of human nature.

As the fourth volume begins, Akiba has recognized the threat Isaac poses, though their shared origins leave him ambivalent. Kujyou is out of her depth, both scientifically and interpersonally, but her efforts to gain understanding on both fronts are compelling to watch. And Isaac’s hostility towards humanity is almost understandable, given the cruelty of the circumstances of his creation. Soryo carefully explores the triangle that they form, probing the emotional and philosophical questions it poses.