Book Review: Lee and Cho’s Phantom


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By Luke Forney

Comics in the United States have enjoyed a long history, and the genre seems to be in the middle of its largest grasp on popularity yet. Thus it was inevitable that comics from outside the United States would start to hit stateside shores. First came the British, especially with 2000 A.D., and the authors who grew out of that tradition, including Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Peter Milligan, Mark Millar, and all of the other members of comics’ British Invasion. Much more recently, the popularity of manga, Japanese comics, has seen a huge upswing, from Osamu Tezuka (Astro Boy, Black Jack, MW) to Kentaro Miura’s ultraviolent fantasy, Berserk. It was only a matter of time that comics from another country became popular. It appears as though the next country’s comics to achieve mass popularity in America might be South Korea.

South Korean comics, called manhwa, are slowly starting to make a mark in the United States, with the most evident example being Priest, written and drawn by Min-Woo Hyung, which was recently made into the movie of the same name starring Paul Bettany. However, there is far more out there, with a vast variety of subjects, including Hyung-Tae Kim’s OXIDE, the manhwa adaption of the videogame ArchLord by Jin-Hwan Park, the gender-bending Devil’s Bride by Se-Young Kim, and the incredibly popular Pink Lady, Yeon Woo’s internet manhwa romance about two childhood friends that reconnect at art school.

Another manhwa out there, applicable to science fiction fans, is Phantom. Written by Ki-Hoon Lee, with art by Seung-Yup Cho, Phantom is the story of a cop named K in a future Seoul, where crime runs rampant on the outskirts of the city, and the interior of Seoul is run by large corporations with their hands in all the right government pockets. K lives his life without questioning the system, working as a pilot in a gigantic humanoid machine stopping crime. However, after one of the terrorists attacking the corporations continues to evade him, his frustration leads to cracks in his unquestioning faith in the system. When he sees this same terrorists, who (of course) turns out to be a beautiful woman, about to be murdered by corporation agents, K leaves his role as cop and finds himself trapped between a organization he has been told his whole life is a hot bed of terrorism, and a government that doesn’t waqnt him to return to his normal life.

The focus on the large machines is one that masy only appeal to a certain crowd of people (those who enjoyed Robotech, Gundam, etc.), but it mixes lots of action with a decent plot, and is a ton of fun to read.Fans of near future science fiction, anti-establishment fiction, and lots of explosions will find much to enjoy here.

Phantom doesn’t try for deep musings on the abuse of power in government, or the true meaning of “terrorist.” It simply focuses on big machines beating each other to pieces, and the relationship trauma K goes through as everything he cares about is taken from him. Phantom isn’t necessarily “great” comics work, but it isn’t trying to be, and it doesn’t need to be. It wants to be fast-paced, action-packed, and fun, and it achieves all of this is spades.

The English translation was being published by TokyoPop, which recently shut down. This means that for a very limited time, these volumes are dirt cheap on Amazon, so don’t wait to check out this series.

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