Death Jam Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Thursday, June 01, 2006
Release Date: Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Writer/Artist:Jeon Sang Young
Translated by:Woo Sok Park
What They Say
When hired to kill Ssowori Rama, a new, unlicensed man-for-hire who is causing havoc even within his own chaotic profession, Muchaca sets out on the grim, futuristic streets of Soul City to seek his mark.
Probably a miss for seasoned manga veterans, Death Jam has the potential to be a fun title that could pull in a new group of readers from the late-night cartoon crowd into the world of manwha/manga.
The release here is pretty bare bones across the board. The matte cover features some very sharp coloring, but the background is terribly bland. The print reproduction is decent, although I found the tones to be a little too dark and there were quite a few spots of muddiness and blotchy tones. There is one chapter insert that features character sketches for Ssowori, a shout out page from the creator, but no other substantial extras.
Talk about a strange contrast. The hyper-violent action is paired with an art style that resembles Invader Zim, Samurai Jack, or other US late-night cartoons. It's very cartoon-ish, extremely exaggerated, and features a lot of stretched perspectives. Thick, extremely dark brush strokes splash across the page chaotically with the cityscapes in the backgrounds not forming to straight lines, giving off that graffiti tagged urban style. There are plenty of big payoff scenes with full page illustrations that definitely do the title justice.
In a way, this style makes the title more acceptable to Western readers who maybe are fans of the above mentioned material, rather than the rugged, more realistic designs, but the more seasoned manga readers will most likely be put off. And while the title is violent, the cartoon style makes it less real and more entertaining.
SFX are not translated. It would have been next to impossible to try and overlay the thick, brush-stroked SFX, but some subs or something would have been useful. The English script feels like it reads well given the material; there is a fair amount of foul language and a cool delivery that definitely feels quite appropriate. The rhymes in the opening chapter could have used some work, but I have a feeling they were just as corny in Korean as well.
Contents (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
You all are probably aware of the saying, "You never get a second chance at a first impression". Well, I'm personally glad I gave Death Jam a second chance after two very lackluster opening chapters. What started off as a bit of a mess ends up a fairly decent, hyper-violent-in-a-cartoon-way, crime action title.
The first two chapters kick off the jams with a sequence of images that seem to be at some future point in the story, foreshadowing a showdown or climatic event in an upcoming volume. You are treated to a futuristic, urban dystopia called Soul City. It's grim, nasty, and even the road signs swear angrily at the drivers to slow the @#$! down. There are speeding motorbikes, drag races, stylish assassins, and a serial axe murderer, all mixed up in a potent stew that perks up the senses.
It's an attention grabbing introduction visually that emotes a good deal about creator Young's setting. If only the first two chapters didn't have any dialogue or narration. The prologue is narrated with a cheap, Cracker Jacks box kind of rhyme, followed by a chapter featuring a string of f-bombs and more narration that is a bit too serious for its own good. My advice, just look at the twisted pictures and keep on moving.
Thankfully everything seems to iron itself out a bit starting with the third chapter and a surprisingly engaging story begins to develop. We are introduced, in a very disconnected and non-linear fashion, to a wannabe man-for-hire named Ssowori who has pissed off the wrong people. He has whacked two private investigators, slept with another gang boss's woman, and broke a wanted felon out of an armored truck. No one knows why, but you can be damn sure he's now been noticed on the closed-circuit cameras that surround the city.
After whacking a crime lord over the cost of a dish of ddeokbokki, Ssowori soon has the whole city after him. Throw in mass video game induced hallucinations that have lead to 15 casualties, a serial axe murderer on the loose, and a pro assassin closely following Ssowori's tail, and the winding story of Death Jam by volume's end becomes quite palatable.
If I was TOKYOPOP, and I'm sure many of you after this statement will be thanking the heavens that I am not, I'd strongly consider getting Jeon Sang Young and Cartoon Network into a room together to discuss a late-night Death Jam animated series. The crude yet stylish artwork, hyperactive action and violence mixed with an urban cool makes this manwha feel like something that would do quite well with that intended audience. While reading this title I couldn't help but think of action sequences from Samurai Jack, the art style of Invader Zim, and the comical crudeness of Aqua Teen Hunger Force or Ren & Stimpy.
Death Jam is definitely not high-brow material and does not require much of an attention span; but for what it is, this manwha does have an audience that will be entertained. The pacing may be uneven, the beginning is very rough, but after a while the story settles into its groove. I am glad this is only 3 volumes long, as I would be worrisome if this concept was stretched out any farther. The question then becomes, will anyone remember this title in 4 months when volume 2 comes out?
Mania Grade: B-
Art Rating: B
Packaging Rating: C+
Text/Translatin Rating: B-
Age Rating: 16 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Left to Right