XS Hybrid Vol. 1 graphic novel
Writer/Artist/Cover artist: Song Ji-Hyung
Translation: Jay So
Lettering: Kathryn Renta
Editor: Tim Ervin
Publisher: Dark Horse/Dark Horse Manwha
Price: $10.95 US
This Korean comic was originally published in 2003, but it made its way westward last year thanks to Dark Horse Comics and its line of translated manwha books. I’ve never been the biggest fan of Asian comics in the past, but there have been some select titles that caught my attention and impressed. The simple but slick design for this book caught my eye, and the blurb on the back led me to sit down and give it a read. Song Ji-Hyung certainly brings a lot of personality and attitude to his characters, and his linework brings an undeniable energy and lightspeed-quick pace to the action. It seems clear to me that Song is more of an artist than a writer. The focus in on the visuals; there’s not nearly enough information conveyed through dialogue or captions in order for the reader to follow the story rather than the action. The first half of the book is confusing, and the central plot only just begins to come into focus in the latter chapters of this volume.
Chang is a fairly typical teenager, as his thoughts constantly revolve around his lovely childhood friend Mina, whom he longs to date. Unfortunately, he keeps blowing his chances with her by repeatedly forgetting about their dates. Of course, Chang’s short attention span is far from their biggest problem. Mina is unknowingly a powerful psychic, and her powers attract the attention of “hybrids,” people with superhuman abilities who live in a violent world. Fortunately, it turns out Chang has some hidden talents as well. As they contend with a brutal predator and government agents who are willing to shed some blood, they also encounter a mysterious stranger who might just be the ally they need.
The action and violence explode off of the page thanks to Song’s detailed art and meticulous and plentiful speed lines. He conveys the intensity of those heart-pounding moments of the story so well that one can’t help but feel the characters’ tension. Still, clarity is a problem during those moments of crisis. It’s hard to follow the flow of the action at times; how the characters and objects get from point A to B to C is difficult to discern at key moments. Song conveys the youth of the main characters quite well. Their innocence shines through, and that helps to sell the notion of how far in over their heads they are.
The information in the back of the book indicates this was first published in Korea just a few years ago. That solidifies my feeling of how deeply the creator was influenced by The Matrix. Both that movie and this manwha are about regular people discovering they are special, that they can perform seemingly impossible feats and that there is a conspiracy all around them of which they were unaware until a key turning point in their lives. The overall style and atmosphere of the book are also reminiscent of the Wachowski Brothers’ most successful film as well. Mind you, there are also enough differences — especially the high-school romance angle — that distinguish XS Hybrid from The Matrix. I just took note of the inspiration; I wouldn’t suggest that Song borrowed too heavily from it or anything.
I like the cultural aspects that turn up in this story. It’s set in Korea, but American agents are incorporated into the plot as well (apparently in the role of the bad guys). The main character’s flaws and the frenetic pace help to draw the reader in, but ultimately, Song’s script is just too minimalist. He tries to show instead of tell the reader what’s going on, which is a good approach. But the art doesn’t convey enough information. It’s not until the mystery man explains things to Mina in the late part of the book does the story really reveal itself.
Ultimately, I think the biggest obstacle for me as a reader is that this is aimed at a younger audience. There’s a hip quality at play that’s just not for a guy in his late 30s. From a skateboarding sequence early in the book to the graffiti/tag logo on the back cover, Song is clearly reaching out to a younger crowd, and my birth certificate is too dated. 6/10