Pullbox Reviews Zhao, volume 1 – Historical Wuxia adventure, now live on Kickstarter

  • Zhao volume 1
  • Chiral Comics
  • Written & illustrated by Kang Jing
  • Colors by Alan Bay
  • Additional art by
    • Collin Yap
    • Jason Woo
    • Lefteye Mark
    • Pavith C
    • RossMonday
  • Edited by Api Ngo
  • Now live on Kickstarter

1279, The Battle of Yamen

By decree of the formidable Kublai Khan, Mongol forces achieved a resounding victory over the ranks of the once-mighty Song Dynasty.

Four decades of conflict culminated in this one final naval battle that consigned the Song empire to the annals of history and established the Mongols’ total dominion over China, ushering in a new era: The Yuan Dynasty.

Caught in the tides of history, Zhao Ming, revered General of the Song, Spear-Master of the Zhao, and his wife Su Xi’er, together with their three sons, embody the dwindling embers of a once-glorious dynasty. Living concealed lives under false identities for years, their world is irrevocably altered by a single reckless moment, thrusting them back into the treacherous abyss.

Zhao Ming finds himself crushed between impossible choices wrought by fate, and torn apart by moral obligations to his family and brethren. His one decision will decide the fates of thousands, his every step reverberating across time.

Fate, Destiny, Duty, and honour intertwine in this epic saga of blood, blades, and tears…

When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of Wuxia (“martial heroes”) without really knowing what it was. What I did know was that I’d be watching Kung Fu Theater on channel 18 every Friday night, devouring whatever epic was being served by the Shaw Brothers. So it goes that when Singapore comic creator Kang Jing reached out with news of his newest project, my interest was piqued.

Zhao is historical fiction, set in the years after the Battle of Yamen. The Mongols have taken control, marking the end of the Song Dynasty & the beginning of the Yuan. Among the displaced are the Zhao family, forced into hiding and working hard to disappear. Early on, Jing establishes their roles as classic characters of heroic fiction: Ming & Xi are the brave & noble parents working to keep their family together, Jing & Lin are the reckless but loyal sons chafing at the oppression of Mongol rule, & Yan is the “good son” who is usually tasked with keeping his brothers out of trouble. Jing works it all into the narrative with as little talky-talk as possible, letting the characters play their parts through actions as well as their dialogue.

Visually, Kang Jing and Alan Bay have served up a fittingly stylized piece of work. I didn’t read a huge amount of manga growing up, but Jing brought back images from some of the classics like Fist of the North Star & older Dragonball, with less emphasis on some of the goofier or over-the-top character designs. What I really liked, particularly in the action sequences, was the way panel borders are removed and an entire page is utilized with no wasted space. Blur & sound effects are often used in place of straight lines to divide the page, so fight scenes play out with a more dynamic feel. My favorite part of the design work might be the way Jing incorporates the names of specific martial arts techniques into his layouts for flavor. Bay’s work on colors fills in the gaps, fleshing the world of Zhao out and giving it depth.

Fans of historical fiction, character driven drama, and of course Wuxia can find a lot to love in Zhao. The Kickstarter campaign is live and well on its way to funding at the writing of this review. Hop over and take a look at the plethora of options available to backers and see if maybe there’s a gap on your bookshelf for something new that’s based on something old.

Final Score: 10/13

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