Let’s get something straight right away: unlike the original video games, Resident Evil is not scary in comics form. It may be bloody and tense, but if it weren’t for the tropes it uses, I wouldn’t call it horror. In The Marhawa Desire, readers will find a cheesy but consistently escalating zombie story reminiscent of an 80s indie horror rental, complete with blood splatter, a camera that leers at women, and tone-deaf one-liners. However, these are not necessarily bad qualities.
As with most comics adaptations of video games, those with prior experience playing the related games will probably pick up on the story’s intended pace and tone better than someone new to the franchise. For instance, a brief color prologue announces, “Resident… Evil… The Marhawa… Desire…” in what must be a deep, ominous voice; this is similar to the way the Resident Evil games let the audience know they were about to experience explicit content (and the cover’s Parental Advisory graphic drives the point home). Although “the franchise” refers to the video game series, it may as well include the movies, given the manga’s moments of goofy self-awareness. For example, a character wonders, “Zombies and shit?! What is this… a comic book?!” Another character demands, “We cannot have a… biohazard,” clearly referring to Japan’s Biohazard titles for the series.
The story follows biology professor Doug Wright and his hapless student/nephew Ricky as they consult for the Marhawa Academy, located in the middle of nowhere. The academy has a zombified student chained in its basement, but it doesn’t know anything about the infection’s origin. School headmaster Mother Gracia seems more interested in containing news of the outbreak than the outbreak itself, while a cloaked figure stalks the grounds for mysterious reasons—are they spreading the zombie plague or attempting to contain it? What other secrets might Marhawa hold? Naturally, these answers are tucked away in future volumes, and book one ends just as Doug and Ricky team up with a couple of security agents to explore a creepy basement area; I half-expected a Save Game screen to appear, as if transitioning between chapters of gameplay.
There is a side plot involving Chris Redfield, a soldier dedicated to combating “bioterrorism,” hordes of zombies and mutated creatures across the globe. Chris is friends with Doug, who deeply wishes he could call in the military cavalry, but he cannot even place a phone call from inside Marhawa. A couple of action scenes show Chris punching zombie-dogs in the face while his partners Piers and Merah battle giant spiders, lizards, and whip-tongued freaks. Though the manga is a prequel to the Resident Evil 6 videogame in which Chris and Piers are featured, Merah is an original character who wears a skintight bodysuit alongside her more conventionally outfitted brothers-in-arms.
Much like the writing, Naoki Serizawa’s artwork fits several different tones as needed. With equal realism, Ricky chases down rats with a butterfly net in one scene and backs away from a sexy zombie schoolgirl in another, but Serizawa sells the humor of one scene and terror of the other with separate vignettes. A candelabra thrust through a zombie’s face and sniper bullet through a monstrous spider’s abdomen are rendered as unflinching spectacles. There’s a lot of detail in the artwork, from elaborate school uniforms and wrinkled cargo pants to sharp facial expressions and thick vines crawling up academy walls. This introductory volume establishes many precedents, all of which are easy on the eyes. By the end of book one, all of the principal cast are easy to tell apart, and the size and style of Marhawa’s attractive campus is made clear.
Rated M like the Capcom video games that provided its concept, the book feels very much like it was adapted directly from a Playstation release. There’s the slowly building dread of Marhawa, heroes on the way with heavy arms, a cult-like headmaster, and a rising body count. Some readers will be turned off by the balance between horror and hijinks, but as the opening act to a descent into bloody madness, this is an entertaining orientation.
Resident Evil: The Marhawa Desire, vol. 1
by Naoki Serizawa
Publisher Age Rating: M