Biomega Vol. 1

By Tsutomu Nihei
216 pages, black and white
Published by Viz

Depending on what sort of comics you read, Tsutomu Nihei is best-known in English language comics for the science-fiction manga Blame! or the Wolverine mini-series Snikt!; I can only assume that the exclamation points in both titles is a coincidence. I think it says a lot about Nihei’s comics that while I’ve never actually read one of his comics, I already knew exactly what his art style looked like. That’s actually exactly why I wanted to read Biomega, to see if his stories were as impressive as his visuals.

What I found inside the covers of Biomega Vol. 1 was a dystopia with cities that rise up over the horizon like massive black fortresses, a virus traveling like wildfire across the population of the planet, and a wild chase to acquire a target before an evil corporation snags her first. As a story it’s actually rather unremarkable in terms of its finer details. A "synthetic human" as a protagonist brings a surprisingly small amount of interest; it’s an idea, like most in Biomega, that seems to just get tossed out and then forgotten about. Only once did the story actually catch my interest and made me think, "Hey, what’s this?" That’s when Kozlov Grebnev, an ambulatory, talking, gun-wielding bear made a sudden appearance to try and protect Eon Green, the target of both our protagonist and the enemy. It never is explained in this volume just why he’s able to talk, and while a trip to Wikipedia explains why, I almost wish that it never was. It’s such a random, out-of-the-blue moment that it actually becomes disappointing that there aren’t more similar wake-up calls throughout Biomega Vol. 1.

On the other hand, the art in Biomega varies between fine and breathtaking. Nihei is at his best when drawing the sprawl of the city; with staircases, turrets, walkways, and ramps all looming above the characters at any given moment, the city is an artistic achievement. I’d cheerfully look at an art book by Nihei where he just draws cityscapes over and over again. The action in Biomega actually feels like it’s getting in the way of the art in several instances; the early establishing scenes are gorgeous, with roads twisting through steel and concrete canyons with thousands of windows dotting their surfaces. Even the interiors of buildings are a joy to look at, a dark hulk of a construction with passages and corridors worming through their core.

The other visual lure in Biomega is whenever one of the zombies makes an appearance, although zombie probably isn’t the best word to describe them. They look like creations straight out of H.R. Giger’s imagination, with cable-like appendages, oversized joints, and vacant faces. They’re a cyberpunk nightmare staggering the streets of Biomega‘s cities, and they provide a bit of a threat that the writing itself doesn’t quite deliver.

I wish I liked Biomega Vol. 1 more than I did. Biomega has art to die for, the kind you can stare at for hours. In terms of an actual story, though, it falls short of the mark. A story about a deadly virus going global and a corporation snatching up the few people with natural immunity should be more exciting than this turns out to be. Maybe the story itself will bulk up a bit in the remaining five volumes, but for now this is a book that you’re picking up for the pictures, not the words.

Purchase Links: Amazon.com | Powell’s Books

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