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Reviews Mon May 02 2011

Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender #1 Review

Yi Soon Shin may be a name unfamiliar to many Western ears. His exploits during Japan's invasion of Korea in the 16th century are rarely explored by Western audiences, yet his story mirrors one of the West's greatest military engagements -- that of the three hundred Spartans at Thermopylae. Yi Soon Shin embodies the same spirit of King Leonidas, and Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender is a fitting parallel to Frank Miller's seminal work of fictionalized history, 300.

However, the key difference between these two comics lies in the accuracy of facts, figures and grounding in historical reality. Writer Onrie Kompan imbues this debut issue with a history class worth of information that grounds the reader in the specifics and clearly lays out the who and the where. Speaking with Kompan, his enthusiasm for the subject matter is apparent, and the level of research he has conducted shows. Nevertheless, I felt a greater longing for more of the why, the underlying meaning of events generated by emphasizing the creative in creative non-fiction.


I mentioned that this work and 300 are similar but differ in terms of accuracy and reported information. While Frank Miller presented a stylized and somewhat fictionalized version of Thermopylae, he crafted in such a way that his lax attention to detail didn't matter because the reader, for the most part, was transfixed by the spectacle of it all.

Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender, on the other hand, seems to be the inverse. While the first issue is heavy on exposition stemming from Kompan's need to place the reader in a particular time and place, perhaps too much accuracy is holding back some of the comic's entertainment value. There is a thrilling middle section highlighting a naval engagement, rendered in wide screen, visually stimulating strokes by artist Giovanni Timpano and colorist Adriana De Los Santos. It picks up the pace but it seems that there is a bit too much window dressing for this comic's sake. While this is the first issue and a degree of table setting is required, hopefully this concern can be corrected in future issues by throwing in more characters the reader can latch onto and identify with against the backdrop of conquest and invasion.

A largely factually accurate comic featuring a little known historical figure can be a hard sell. Nevertheless, the beginnings of a satisfying tale about the triumph of an underdog are there, as long as a better balance is struck between fact and truth. Keep an eye out for future issues to see how this project develops.

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