Comic Review: The Malay Mysteries

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writer: Jai Sen
artist: Rizky Wasisto Edi
published by Shoto Press

(this article originally appeared in Rue Morgue #35, Sept./Oct. 2003)

A light, but no less accomplished for it, strain of horror is offered in The Malay Mysteries, a pair of uniquely designed and printed comics dramatizing Indonesian folks tales.

The series kicks off with its darkest offering, Garlands of Moonlight, which is one of the prettiest titles to grace comic shop shelves in years. The story begins with the declaration that “there is something wrong in this village” and indeed there is.

Mothers and babies are dying in the night, their corpses found covered in vines. As the villagers search for an explanation — and a scapegoat — Marsiti, an old woman versed in the supernatural and herbal medicines, and Hidayat, a teacher whose faith lies in science, not spooks, investigate. The clues they discover point to a bodiless female monster as the culprit. But the villagers, eager for an explanation, blame Marsiti. The twists and turns of this 85-page tale are well thought out and wrap up in a chilling conclusion.

The second volume, The Ghost of Silver Cliff, send us back in time to the point just before the conclusion of Garlands of Moonlight. Here, we are given events that weren’t shown in the first story and are offered closure on that tale’s unsettling ending. In a much lighter story, Marsiti and Hidayat sail with a group of traders to village bordered by the Silver Cliff, an area reputed to be haunted. There, Marsiti and Hidayat encounter local legends, politics, and a poison plot.

Along with the unusual (to most North American readers) source of these stories, both volumes of The Malay Mysteries stand out because they are long rather than tall (they measure about a third the height of a traditional comic). The books further distinguish themselves because they’re printed with a shimmery, silver ink that makes the pages sparkle when they’re held at an angle under light. The ink, mixed with the size of the books, makes for a terrific package.

Buy Garlands of Moonlight at Amazon

Buy The Ghost of Silver Cliff at Amazon

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