If I’ve learned anything from my limited study of horror films, it’s this: zombies come in two flavors. The first type are slow, shambling, and stupid, posing little threat to the hero until they reach a critical mass — say, enough to surround the pub or shopping mall where the hero has hunkered down to await help. The second type are swift of foot and mind, making them a far greater menace to humanity. Raiders is positively crawling with the second type, giving this preposterous yet entertaining story a jolt of visceral energy. Figuratively and literally.
Raiders‘ plot hinges on the kind of conspiracy theory that’s the stock-and-trade of Dan Brown. Early in volume one, we learn that Jesus’ blood was collected by His disciplines in five bottles, or chrisms, which were stashed in churches around the world for safekeeping. His blood is a highly desirable commodity, as it has the power to heal life-threatening wounds and resurrect the dead. Not surprisingly, numerous parties are interested in finding the chrisms, though for very different reasons. Professor Wilter Langhem, for example, wants to unravel one of the Church’s oldest and deepest mysteries, whereas Lamia, a zombie with a passion for Gothic fashion, hopes Christ’s blood will end her earthly purgatory.
The story is set in motion when Langhem and Irel Clark, his assistant, discover one of the chrisms in an English cathedral. After wresting it from a pack of gun-toting goons, they board a train for London, where they encounter Lamia. Lamia proves a formidable opponent, besting the professor and backing Irel into a corner. Desperate to survive their encounter, Irel chugs the chrism’s contents and passes out. When he comes to, he discovers that he’s an indestructible, immortal being with a host of new enemies — zombies, priests, and police officers — each with designs on the chrisms.
Subtle it isn’t — what, no evil Nazis? — but Raiders has the good grace to wear its conceit lightly, focusing primarily on shoot-outs, car chases, and acrobatic, hand-to-hand combat. To be sure, JinJun Park includes a few passages of explanatory dialogue — no religious conspiracy tale can dispense with the mumbo-jumbo completely — but having told and shown us what the blood of Christ can do, Park resists the urge to fill downtime with a primer on Christian relics. The story moves at a brisk clip, pausing only to introduce more players with a stake in the action. Though the fight scenes are staged with flair, a few are difficult to follow, as Park employs so many fancy camera angles and speedlines that it isn’t always obvious how a kick or a punch resulted in such carnage.
For Americans whose entire impression of manhwa was formed by reading such sun-jeong (shojo) titles as Bride of the Water God, Cynical Orange, Goong: The Royal Palace, I.N.V.U., and President Dad, Raiders will come as something as a shock. Park favors a more cinematic style, providing considerable background detail and rendering his characters’ faces and bodies in a more realistic, less stylized fashion than is typical of girl-friendly manhwa. His layouts have a distinctive visual rhythm owing to his generous use of pure black screentone; though he uses dark ink to create shadows and reveal form, it also serves as a kind of exclamation mark, drawing the eye to key moments in the action. Park doesn’t shy away from the ickier implications of his premise, indulging in some gory (but not unbearable) scenes of snaxploitation. (Equal opportunity snaxploitation, I might add: everyone’s a potential food source in Raiders.)
Readers who enjoyed Dark Horse’s manlier manhwa licenses — Banya the Explosive Delivery Man, Shaman Warrior, XS Hybrid — will find a lot to like about Raiders, as will fans of religio-horror series such as Hellsing, Priest, and Trinity Blood. Those with strong religious convictions or a deep aversion to entrails should probably stay away, however, as they’ll find plenty to offend their sensibilities. Best when read with a big grain of salt and a good sense of humor.
RAIDERS, VOL. 1 • BY JINJUN PARK • YEN PRESS • 192 pp. • RATING: OLDER TEEN (16+)