By Dan Hagen
Super heroics are traded for historic heroics in the graphic novel “Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender” by Onrie Kompan, Giovanni Timpano, Adriana De Los Santos, Joel Saavedra and my old friend David Anthony Kraft.
Before this handsome hardcover first volume arrived from Amazon, I was unfamiliar with Korean Admiral Yi Soon Shin, a figure like Daniel Boone or Alexander whose daring, unlikely adventures propel him necessarily toward larger-than-life myth. Yi Soon Shin saved his countrymen by repelling a vastly superior Japanese invasion force in the 16th century.
Timpano and De Los Santos’ art has a numinous, back-lit gorgeousness. Its aesthetic and moral clarity combine to force our gaze past all the banal clichés that have drained the term the “horror of war” of its force. The devil is always in the details, and here we are shown his features — a young woman ordered to undress for the convenience of all the soldiers who intend to rape her, helpless prisoners used for target practice, a mother shot straight through the head while she is holding her small son to shield him from harm. This is what pitiless invaders are like in the real world, then and now. And this is why we really require heroes, rare though they are.
But Yi Soon Shin, as presented here, was one — clear-eyed about power, rational, brave and empathetic, poet, philosopher and warrior. He’s Horatio Hornblower in the East. Plagued by the menacing might of Japan without and treacherous, psychotic military rivals within, this protagonist must muster everything he has within himself to survive.
DAK is a publisher and former writer for Marvel and DC comics, and the book begins with a laudatory introduction by his old friend Stan Lee. The plaudits are well earned. Although a kind of docudrama, not a fantasy, this story — with its dream-colored exotic uniforms and its romantic melodrama — is ideal for the comic book form. Blackmail, betrayal, romance, suicide missions, sexual intrigue, ninja, straight-talking vernacular, gay samurai, cliffhangers, dragon ships and archenemies who were supposed to be dead — they make a rich brew worthy of being sipped and savored.