Monkey King, Vol. 1, the first release from new publish JR Comics, is an adaption of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West courtesy of Wei Dong Cheng and Chao Peng. The opening volume kicks off with the birth and origins of the Monkey King, Sun Wu Kong, and chronicles some of his earlier exploits.
Monkey King’s story is incredibly fast paced, breezing along from one tale of Sun Wu Kong’s trouble making ways to another. It barely stops to breath and at times it feels very plot driven. Despite being the main character not a whole lot of time is given to exploring the ins and outs of Sun Wu Kong’s personality in this first volume. Events that seem like they’re meant to motivate and drive him are often depicted but then abandoned in favor of depicting more of his antics. The result is that there’s a lack of emotional resonance with these events. We see them occur but so little time is given to examining their affects upon Sun Wu Kong that it’s left up to the readers to fill in the blanks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but going from tragedy to a silly scene of Sun Wu Kong causing chaos seems to undercut the emotional impact they’re meant to have on him. It’s possible that these will be brought up and discussed at greater length in the future, but right now they just seem to lack the oomph that they should have.
Visually the book is pretty solid. Chao Peng does a fantastic job at illustrating the various gods, demons and mystics that populate the story. The action scenes aren’t as decompressed as those of similar manga and most fights are over in a matter of pages. Peng does a great job at avoiding the pitfalls of making characters look too much alike and is quite good at conveying expressions and emotions through the faces of his characters. The backgrounds are always fleshed out and the book’s in full color to boot, making it a bit of a visual treat with plenty of interesting things to look at and get absorbed into.
Monkey King is an interesting creature. I haven’t really seen an attempt at getting Chinese comics published in the US since the ComicsOne days so it’s nice to see someone trying again. That said I’m not sure if this is the right way to go about doing it. It’s a fairly entertaining read but something about it is just lacking the “it” factor to really make it stand out from what else is on the shelves now a days. Still, it seems like a solid adaption of a Chinese classic and I’m tempted to hunt down another volume or two in the future.
Monkey King, Vol.1 is published by JR Comics and is available now.