Review: Yi Soon Shin – Vol. 1: Warrior and Defender

It is honestly rare that you’ll find a historically based comic on anything from Korea. Maybe it’s just me and my lack of knowledge of the very specific genre, but a quick search of my reviews and you’ll see that I read a lot. It was a pleasure to finally sit down with this first volume of Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender and learn something in the process of being entertained. I don’t know anything about the real Yi Soon Shin outside of a google search; so I can’t tell you how historically accurate this book is, but I can say that it’s handled with respect and that’s important for any historical adaptation.

The story is actually pretty easy to sum up. It’s about Japan’s attempted invasion of Korea. Easy right? But if it was that easy it wouldn’t be worth reading and this book is definitely worth reading. The story begins in Japan as the Emperor declares war on Korea for the beginning of his conquest to control all of Asia. One of his advisors speaks out against him and is instantly asked to commit Seppeku in front of everyone. From there we see Japan’s soldiers in Korea slaughtering everyone they come across and raping others. They are ruthless in their attack against the natives. Soon though, the battle moves out to the sea as a scout ship is discovered full of dead bodies.

Yi-Soon-Shin-Vol-1The Japanese head back to their ships to face the Korean Navy that is waiting for them. Here we meet Yi Soon Shin, an admiral in the fleet. As the Japanese approach, the Korean ships get into position and though they are outnumbered and have smaller vessels, they annihilate the Japanese fleet. This doesn’t completely eliminate the threat since there are still Japanese on the Korean shores, but it’s the first stage in Yi Soon Shin’s rise to greatness as the men of all ships call out his name in victory.

From there the story continues as we meet other main characters on both sides of the war. After scouting the shore Yi Soon Shin discovers a body that’s been hung up in the trademark of a man he thought was dead… Baron Seo. Seo is a Korean traitor that is helping the Japanese to get revenge on Shin and in the process indulge in his hobby of killing. He catches the two Japanese leaders kissing and blackmails them into following his orders going forward.

We also meet Won Kyun, another admiral with his own fleet. He’s a power hungry and jealous man that feels that all of Shin’s credit should go to him, even though he makes terrible decisions. He decides to take on more of the Japanese on his own and his strategy forces Shin to come and help him. During this, Shin takes a bullet from Baron Seo who has orchestrated the entire event to drawn Shin out. Even though he’s shot and could possibly die, Shin still organizes the ships and finishes off the Japanese fleets and saves Won Kyun. Kyun doesn’t even pay attention to Shin’s efforts and once again becomes enraged that his men (what’s left of them) aren’t cheering for him.

War is hell and with that comes a lot of disturbing things like rape, torture and murder in general. This book doesn’t shy away from anything including sex and while there is no way of knowing all of the exact details, it’s safe to say that a lot what’s depicted in the story happened in one form or another. It’s a dark story in that regard and reminded me a lot of Garth Ennis’ writing style. The story is handled brilliantly though and I couldn’t put it down once I started it. The dialog is very rich and the pacing is just right. With historical books, the tendency is to follow the history exactly which often times creates an awkward pacing and weird dry spots. With Yi Soon Shin though, the story never suffers in this regard.

Because it’s a hardcover book, there is a ton of bonus material in the back. This caught me off guard as I was hoping for more story and found that there wasn’t another chapter to expect. That’s when you know it’s a good book, when you approach the end but you’re still expecting and wanting more even up to that last page. Yi Soon Shin is a great character and if this comic book version is a fraction of the real thing, then this guy was an unbelievable bad ass.

The art is fantastic. Its photo realistic and the details are never spared. Being that it’s a war title, that means a lot of characters and soldiers and not a one of them comes across as rushed or half-assed. The battle scenes in particular were easy to follow and really captured the impact and tone of the scene. I was honestly nervous for Shin every time he went into battle after the initial encounter. Very few great men make it out of war and while I don’t know how the story/history ends, I know that he manages to make it through some near death experiences over and over and the art is a driving force behind that emotional response I had while reading it.

I wish I had gotten to this book sooner, but that’s the way it is sometimes. I read it when it felt right and I think that I enjoyed it a lot because of that. It’s rich with history, war and great characters all wrapped up into one story. What I really enjoyed was that I had never heard or read about this moment in history before. It’s a great experience not to get the same tired history lesson over and over with some new detail pointed out to you. This was a completely fresh read and was executed wonderfully. Well worth the read if you’re interested in war, history or just a well told, fantastically drawn story.

Score: 5/5

Yi Soon Shin – Vol. 1: Warrior and Defender Writer: Onrie Kompan Co-Writer/Editor: David Anthony Kraft Artist: Giovanni Timpano Colorist: Adriana de Los Santos Price: $25.00 Website: