Quick comic comments: Shifts

November 28, 2007

I’m happy to report that Hiroki Endo’s Eden: It’s an Endless World! (Dark Horse) makes an exhilarating return to form with the ninth volume. Endo leaves the cartels and brothels of South America behind for a thrilling, multilayered hostage crisis in Asia. Rebels have occupied an oil facility owned by evil empire Propator. The facility itself is less meaningful to the rebels than shedding light on the plight of their people, who are the targets of systematic cultural assimilation. As Propator tries brutally to put a lid on the situation, other forces are working to broadcast the situation as widely as possible. In other words, the forces of money, politics and media are swirling around in the kind of crazily complex yet strangely humanistic way that Endo executes so very well.

Endo folds in a number of new narrative elements and characters with apparent ease. I’m particularly impressed by the introduction of the rebel group. With so many outside forces pulling the strings, they could easily come across as idealistic dupes, but Endo gives them a much more layered portrayal. They know they’re out of their depth, and the knowledge sparks dissent over method and means. But they’re strangely admirable all the same, and it’s fascinating to watch their leader, Marihan, walk a tightrope of morality, influence and survival.

On the other hand, there’s the fifth volume of Marley’s Dokebi Bride (Netcomics). I’ve always had the sense that Marley doesn’t have much of an attention span for the various plot threads she weaves together, but it’s usually part of the book’s charm. It generally seems more expansive than scattered.

This time around, the shift in focus is rather jarring. Things open with a blistering, extremely effective confrontation between troubled Sunbi and a rival shaman. The fallout pushes Sunbi’s family situation from difficult to impossible, and she runs away. Suddenly we find ourselves in what I can only describe as an Afterschool Special produced by Lifetime. Sunbi winds up in a community of runaways and fades into the background as her new, emotionally damaged roomies suck up all the oxygen. If there was anything particularly surprising about their woes or if it all influenced Sunbi in the slightest, it might not have been a problem. Unfortunately, there wasn’t and it didn’t, so I found myself clinging to the brief glimpses of what was happening back at home with Sunbi’s endearingly bratty stepsister.

Don’t get me wrong. I like Dokebi Bride a lot, particularly for Sunbi’s belligerence. (She’s earned it, to be honest.) I even like the general sense that it isn’t going anywhere in particular, or at least not very quickly. But with so many inviting side streets already on its narrative map, a big detour into social problem drama territory didn’t do the book any favors.