A couple years back I reviewed a hardcover compilation for an indie limited comic series called Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender, based on the real life military exploits of the book’s titular war general Admiral Yi Soon Shin, one of Korea’s most cherished historical figures. I unequivocally praised the book as a masterpiece of historical fiction.
Warrior and Defender was actually the first volume in a trilogy based on Yi Soon Shin planned by series creator and writer, Onrie Kompan. The second volume is Yi Soon Shin: Fallen Avenger, and the final issue of the volume, #4, was recently released towards the end of 2016.
Issue #1 of Fallen Avenger picked up where Warrior and Defender ended, with the stunning victory of the Korean navy led by Admiral Yi at the Battle of Hansan Island, which closed the first volume on a high note of hope. Here was an inexperienced, little known military leader who quickly rose through the ranks by his sheer brilliance and charisma, undermining what many felt would be a near-certain victory for the Japanese and immeasurably boosting the morale of the outnumbered Korean navy. But if Warrior and Defender was like Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope in this way, then Fallen Avenger is definitely the Empire Strikes Back of this epic—the Japanese empire strikes back, that is.
While Fallen Avenger takes on a decidedly darker, grimmer tone than Warrior and Defender, not all of it is gloom and doom, particularly when we reach issue #4. Whereas the first three issues of this second volume focused on the “fallen” aspect of the subtitle, issue #4 is where the “avenger” aspect comes into play.
In #1 to #3 we saw our eponymous warrior and defender imprisoned, stripped of his title and tortured. Virtually everyone–save his loyal soldiers who revere him–seemed to be against him including his arch-nemesis Baron Seo, Emperor Toyotomi Hideyoshi, various Japanese generals (including one who is particularly menacing and crazy as f**k), a scheming Korean general, and even the king of Korea himself. In issue #4 we see how, even with every imaginable factor working against him, our hero Admiral Yi still refuses to give up and fights with every last remaining ounce of strength and will. Kompan and co-writer David Anthony Kraft really pull out all the stops to create a sense of near-impossible odds. The story leaves readers curious how much of the actual history resembles the story they’ve created here—something that is in itself, in my opinion, an accomplishment (anything that gets people to study more history!). However, parents be forewarned: this is much like Game of Thrones in that there is a lot of gore and nudity. It’s not really a comic for the kiddies, but it is most definitely a comic for you if you are a fan of the genres of military history or historical fiction.
Although issue #1 of Fallen Avenger was drawn by Giovanni Timpano, who also did the art for Warrior and Defender, starting with issue #2 artist El Arnakleus took over penciling duties. Visually, the transition from #1 to #2 was smooth and hardly noticeable save perhaps for the keenest of eyes (which mine certainly aren’t). The applies to issue #4 as well. Personally, I like it this way. I always prefer a single comic book storyline to have the same artist from beginning to end if possible (especially if it’s an artist whom I like), but if the artist is going to change then I prefer that the different artists’ styles resemble each other as closely as possible. Otherwise, if the stylistic difference is too significant I find it to be jarring and it pulls me out of the story.
As with Warrior and Defender, the art in Yi Soon Shin: Fallen Avenger #4 is astounding, not just by indie comic standards but by any standard. Kudos go also to colorist Adriana De Los Santos whose work here gives Arnakleus’s art a photorealistic edge and an ineffable aura of historicity. There are a handful of “money shots” in this issue (like the one pictured above) that are not so much comic book panels as they are paintings that should be hung on walls. While some comic readers used to reading mostly Marvel and DC (and maybe sometimes Image or Dark Horse) titles may be reluctant to spend money on indie comics out of a perceived notion that they tend to be subpar in quality, the Yi Soon Shin series completely defies such expectations. Kompan and his team prove once again that so long as all the right elements are in place—talent, vision, funding, patience and a savvy business plan—even the most fiercely independent of comics can match the artistic and literary quality of the big publishers, sometimes superior even.
If you’ve read the first three issues of Fallen Avenger, by all means get issue #4 as it is the visceral payoff for the grim brutality of the first three issues. If you’ve read the first volume of this epic, Warrior and Defender, but haven’t yet started reading Fallen Avenger, do so as the heroism of Yi Soon Shin goes even further beyond what you saw in the first book. And if you haven’t read any of the Yi Soon Shin comics at all, but you are a fan of comics, then do yourself a favor and check it out, starting with the first volume. This is some of the best of what the indie comic world has to offer.