“What doesn’t kill you will try again later” — so goes the tag line for Min-Woo Hyung’s Ghostface, a sci-fi thriller in which a female assassin is sent to recover a top-secret drug from a gang of thieves. If only the story was as snappy as the jacket copy! Alas, Ghostface is the kind of talky, self-serious comic that interrupts a perfectly good action scene so that one of the characters can intone nonsense about destiny, or explain a key plot detail for the reader’s benefit, or remind his arch-enemy about the source of their mutual animosity.
It’s a pity that Hyung saddled Ghostface with such a ponderous script, as he’s a terrific artist, capable of drawing sexy, strong characters, evocative landscapes, and scary-looking monsters. Sodo, the island on which Ghostface takes place, offers ample evidence of his skill; though the island’s abandoned buildings and shattered roadways are something of a sci-fi cliche, Hyung’s expert use of color imbues these wasted cities with a sepulchral beauty. His characters, too, are stylish: his women are tall and curvy butt-kickers — the better to fill out their skin-tight costumes — while the men have leonine faces and impossibly chiseled torsos. (In a nod to equal-opportunity fanservice, many of Hyung’s male characters like to accessorize a chic outfit with a bare pec or two.)
Storytelling, on the other hand, is not Hyung’s forte. The basic plot is clearly delineated, but the script’s slack pacing and macho posturing grow tiresome quickly. If I had to point to the moment at which I officially lost interest in Ghostface, it would be a scene in which a drug-addled supervillain hovers over an unconscious woman and hisses, “Your flesh will sustain me and bear my fruit… You were born to be my chalice.” Not since Baudelaire declared, “Your memory in me glitters like a monstrance!” have I read such an uninviting pick-up line involving a sacred object.
And if the relic pillow-talk wasn’t goofy enough, Hyung then introduces a sexy ninja, complete with butt-floss outfit, mystical powers, and a taste for other beautiful women. She’s the kind of character who might have worked in the context of a Koike-Ikegami raunchfest, but Hyung’s story is so self-important that he won’t allow her be to crazy or evil or interesting; her primary role is to strike provocative poses, whether she’s torturing the heroine or lying comatose in a hallway. Hyung doesn’t even have the good graces to let us savor how tough she is, treating her big moment of bad-assery so casually that I didn’t realize that she had stabbed herself in the heart with an acupuncture needle until I re-read the scene.
The bottom line: Ghostface looks like a million bucks, but takes itself so seriously that it forgets to be fun.
GHOSTFACE, VOL. 1 • BY MIN-WOO HYUNG • TOKYOPOP • 140 pp. • RATING: MATURE (18+)