Reading Pile: The Kingdom of the Gods/Burning Hell
After watching the South Korean Netflix series Kingdom, which is really really really good and I highly recommend it, I wanted to check out the comic that it was based on despite hearing they actually had very little in common. Besides sharing the core concept of a zombie outbreak during Korea's Joseon Dynasty there really is the bare minimum of common ground. It's also a relatively short story, which is why this edition also collects another short piece called Burning Hell and to be honest that was the stronger part of the package. So much that I was planning on selling this books once I finished the Kingdom section but now will definitely keep it after reading the Hell section.
Kingdom follows the young Prince Yi Moon and a bandit named Jae-ha as they travel to Jiyuheon. The prince lost his bodyguards in an assassination attempt and lucked out when he stumbled across the bandit, offering him payment for his aid in getting to safety. While they're on the run from a band of assassins they stumble across the aftereffects of a plague that's hit the region, except just substitute the word plague with zombie outbreak.
It's a decent short story, but if you watched the show first and didn't get any warning about the difference it will most likely feel lacking in a number of ways. The show is an amazing blend of political thriller, zombie horror, character drama, and a fantastic period piece as well. The comic is a solid enough with some zombie action and nice art in it, but it never really breaks past a fairly superficial plot and generally forgettable characters. It also glosses by a lot of things, like how Jae-ha inexplicably becomes blind at night so that his fights with the assassins are little tougher. Because....reasons?
It's fine, but sort of the embodiment of the idea of disposable entertainment. Don't worry too much, don't overthink parts of the story, and it's ok to just toss it once you're done.
The Burning Hell portion of the book is just a great pitch and manages to do a little more (at least for me) in its short amount of time.
The story is set on Kyokudo Island, a desolate place where both Japan and Korea would dump their most notorious criminals. We follow Japanese cannibal Juu just as he is being dumped on the island (while murdering most of his guards) and he soon meets the Korean serial killer/doctor named Han who has killed pretty much every other criminal and turned the place into a nightmarish exhibition hall that Predators would consider a place of fine art.
As they're both masters of murder and extremely powerful they basically spend the next year in continuous battle until a pirate ship has the misfortune of choosing the island as a hideout. And while the two of them are still actively trying to murder each other, they also kinda work together to kill plenty of other people and have to also face down a magical pirate captain who turns into a partial crab monster. And that may feel like a random curveball, and it totally is, but it's done with such entertaining abandon that it's really easy to just go with the flow.
The core concept of two horrible monsters at odds for survival would have been enough for me, but the story has a lot of fun by essentially turning it all into a weird buddy action piece. The two have been warring with each for so long they are essentially warrior soulmates to a degree, and have an odd murderous respect for each other. There's also the fun that neither really ever knows exactly what the other is saying but can read their body language and tones so well that it doesn't matter, and that also gets a fun boost with the westerner pirates and their captive princess who can't understand a word the 'heroes' are saying. The princess actively thinks they are kind men while one is talking about how delicious she will tastes and the other wants to dissect her. There's a great infusion of dark comedy throughout, and combined with the uber violent sword battles and the crisp art style it just has a lot more going for it than the Kingdom story.
This is sort of a tough package for me to recommend because I found half of the book to be lackluster. It clocks in at 288 pages for $14.99 and it's a pretty dense package but it does read fairly fast, and Burning Hell only takes up 114 pages. You may just want to borrow it first and see how much you like it before putting money down, and considering how short Burning Hell is you may be fine with just the quick read and moving on. I definitely do recommend checking out the Netflix series for Kingdom though as it's just a really engaging mix of genres and storytelling with some great acting.