The Malay Mysteries book 1: Garlands of Moonlight: review

From ComicBookNet E-mag issue #375 (07/05/2002)
Review by David LeBlanc. Reprinted with permission.

86 pages, black & white, 7 X 5, $4.59 US
ISBN 0-9717564-0-6
Shoto Press

Written by Jai Sen
Illustrated by Rizky Wasisto Edi

This book is an international mix having been manufactured in India by a Japanese company, published in the USA and created by an Indian and Indonesian. It is based on Asian supernatural folklore. The story goes that a female dying during childbirth was given a choice to live, forever, by the spirits. She would have to sacrifice her baby and every full moon she would have to drink the blood of nursing mothers. To do this her head would separate from her body, with her entrails still attached, and she would float to find her victims. It is said that any female dying of childbirth on a night of the full moon can make this pact. Creepy stuff!

The story begins in an Asian village as a new Jamu Lady, a medicine woman, Marsiti, makes her rounds. A pregnant female, Sumiati, greets her and they hit it off well. Not so a young man, Hidayat, who favors the modern ways and not the herbs and superstitions of tradition. He mostly hates the Dutch rulers who demand a fifth of the town’s profits. He wants the village to resist but they do not respond. She fears the premonitions she is having of evil coming soon. There are foul- smelling plants growing around, Garlands of Moonlight, and even the fruit seller has had to throw out some produce that smells bad. Sure enough soon a nursing mother is found dead and her baby is gone. The husband only can utter “moonlight” and Garlands”. Marsiti tells the tale of the floating head to a disbelieving Hidayat. Of course the power of most supernatural evil is the unwillingness of people to believe.

So as the old Jamu lady tries to fight the supernatural evil the young man tries to fight the real world evil. Soon motives intertwine with the supernatural being helping against the Dutch overlord for its own purposes and the real force behind the evil is revealed too late to help the village.

The story is fascinating from many views as it tries to show the culture of the colonial plantation in a period of time when hew ways slowly began to replace old. The story is easy reading without a lot of language problems. I often have a problem with some Manga for this reason – too many culturally unique words with no explanations. Not so here. The art is polished for a first time graphic novel and shows how well trained the artist is. If you can find it, get it! It is worth your time.