A review excerpt on the back cover of I Am a Hero states that it is “The greatest zombie manga ever.” Yes, “IAAH” joins the ranks of great zombie manga such as “Maho Shojo of the End,” “Living Corpse,” and “Tokyo Zombie.” And when I say “joins the ranks,” I mean “blows them out of the water.”
Kengo Hanazawa’s genre-bending series is collected in soft cover omnibus by Dark Horse, is about the size of a thick paperback novel, and maintains the Japanese reading format, (our) back-to- front, and right-to- left. As stated in the back/front, this helps maintain the artwork’s visual orientation. (Note: Most manga reads this way, but it’s worth stating in case this is your first foray into the style.)Speaking of the cover, its use of color images laid over a black-and- white background gives it the feel of an animation cell and gives a real pop to the titular hero.
Hideo is a delusional manga artist who lives alone, save for the yurei he sees; they don’t care about all the locks on his door, his security system, his magic circles…or his shotgun. Yes, Hideo is in possession of a shotgun, a rare thing in Japan. One of the reasons Japanese (and most foreign) zombie stories are so compelling is that every character doesn’t have an assault rifle with apparently endless ammunition. In this case, you have one milquetoast failed artist with a target-shooting permit and a shotgun.
The story takes its time ramping up to the zombie apocalypse, the suspense building on each page, but it spends that time developing characters just enough to make them relatable and realistic, yet without demanding an exhausting amount emotional investment. As his world starts crashing down around him and he becomes “free,” Hideo is forced to decide what kind of person he wants to be.
An early conversation in the book is between Hideo and his fellow artists at the manga studio about the essence of manga and its place in Japanese and global pop culture. It’s a telling dialogue that Hanazawa unpacks in the course of “IAAH.” The artwork is amazingly realistic, while at the same time maintaining a manga flair and sensibility. One of my chief complaints about zombie comics is that as good as the story and artwork might be, the nature of the medium negates the “BOO!” moments, those sudden little scares that you can get in filmed works. This book actually had images that creeped me right the hell out, which would be enough of a selling point to me if I didn’t already own it and was reading this review.
I Am a Hero Omnibus 1, publisher: DARK HORSE, written and drawn by: KENGO HANAZAWA, price: $19.99.
Review by Robb McKinney.