With Attack on Titan’s US manga now caught up with the Japanese release, and the TV seasons of both Titan and The Walking Dead almost finished in the US as well, where is one to go for zombie, post-apocalyptic gore? The Hunger Games isn’t going to cut it, but Viz Signature’s Biomega will.
In Biomega’s first volume, Earth’s future is a dark indeed. A virus, N5S, has not only halted humanity’s expansion into the vast unknowns of space, but it’s also kept the population stagnant for hundreds of years, as humankind spends more time ridding itself of the infected “compulsory execution” squads than making advancements in any given area. The story follows Zoichi Kanoe as he enters a massive floating city in the Pacific in search of a specific person of interest. The city has been quarantined for an untold amount of time as an island abandoned to an epidemic. The regenerating zombies that roam the city from the virus’s effects are bad enough, but a cult happy to spread the virus throughout the world, an unwilling target, and a death-squad of competition makes Zoichi’s task all the harder.
Zoichi is a classic reader stand-in, stoic and almost wordless. Therefore, it’s the secondary characters — the bear, the motorcycle AI, and the level boss — that are vibrant and interesting. However, Zoichi’s special-ops-style design makes him easy to relate to for men or women. And, he does what needs to be done, whether that’s shooting at missiles, falling through glass ceilings, or riding his motorcycle between buildings, so by the time you get a few pages into the story, it’s the perfect thrill ride.
Biomega is written and illustrated by Tsutomu Nihei, who in the US might be most well-known for the Halo Graphic Novel, a commission by Bungie Studios. Knights of Sidonia is also one of his manga works. Nihei has a style all his own, and combines several rare storytelling specialties into a unique niche — architecture, cyberpunk, and near-wordless comics. Originally a student of architecture, he brings a dramatic vision of space into Biomega that, however improbable, is always possible — just like the best zombie adventures.
The art in this book is one a collector may want on their shelf for bragging rights. The cover is a beautiful monochrome CG, but the inside is almost entirely ink pen. Every line can be seen and felt, whether it’s on fur, clothing, buildings, or biomechanical goo, and there are thousands per page. Time-intensive cross-hatching brings the world to life with a sketchy, nightmarish quality that refines or relaxes itself depending on narrative perspective, thus using line itself to set the tone. Dramatic stippling (done by airbrush) creates clouds of the malicious ether that pervades the story, whether it be smog or the virus. Even the white-pen spray of sparks is created with remarkable vivacity upon the page. This is definitely a master example of “use of the line,” which a student can readily learn from or a fellow master can appreciate. The production value is visibly high and never slacks.
There are far more full-page spreads in this book than the usual number, and many are devoted the cityscapes that show off the whimsical, gothic architecture of the floating island. It’s reminiscent of Soul Eater on steroids. And, taking the “strong silent type” into the illustration itself, the illustrations are rarely interrupted by speech bubbles. The artwork overall is dark, but don’t let that scare you away — there’s humor in the book as well, and its timing is fantastic.
Speaking of, the build of narrative elements in this book is strong; this single volume almost feels like a story in and of itself. Here, Nihei’s mastery of one-shot works comes into play: at the end of the volume, you feel like you’ve gone a long way for the page count. It feels like you’ve gone through a particularly long narrative arc in Resident Evil, and who doesn’t want that?
The next volumes will take us in search of the more characters and a cure for the virus, while the world gets ever more hectic. I’m curious to see if humanity is whittled down to one city or if our hero can prevent being the last man standing. Either way, Nihei hits every criterion you could ask for in this type of story, and leaves you with no complaints.