Welcome to “Drama Bomb Imports!”, a series that intends to look at the comics that have come from all over the world’s pop-culture industry in order to populate the bookshelves of female American comic book readers. This week’s specialty: Operation Liberate Men volume 1 and 2 by Mira Lee.
Rather than being the story of a femme fatale or a strong female character, Mira Lee’s comic explores the journey of a transsexual hero. In the tradition of most magical-girl plots, our 16-year-old tomboy protagonist Sooha is whisked away from her disappointingly mundane life to a fantastical realm in order to aid a people in need. And that sums up the magical-girl essence of Operation Liberate Men. From this basic platform, author and artist Mira Lee departs from all tradition and turns the entire magical-girl story on its head. First, Sooha is not so much whisked away as she is suckered into helping fight a war. Sooha is very cynical, grumpy, and headstrong for a comic aimed at 13-year-old girls. Her naive outbursts against the unfairness of the world are identifiable as par for the course in girls’ comics written for the teen crowd. Her motives however, are far more mature than one would expect.
(Spoilers) From the minute Sooha meets a member of the Male Liberation Army (MLA) she sneers and decides to humor him in order to see this impressive empire ruled by women. Rather than rushing to the aid of the enslaved men, Sooha is preoccupied with exploring the capital of the Para Empire and observing what a female orientated Greco-Roman society would be like. She quickly comes to the realization that a female leader with absolute power and authoritarian rule is just as flawed as a male divine ruler. Taking it further, Lee impresses on her readers that a war between genders will not solve anything either. By making her main character a free agent rather than a full supporter of the MLA or an imperial sympathizer, Lee stresses the independent creativity of Sooha. Rather than having her character ark motivated by a vendetta or a romantic interest, Sooha finds her place in the world of the Para Empire as a fighter for justice and equality. A self-described amazon with insecurities about her preference for men’s clothing, but who refuses to let it slow her down.
Revolutionary Girl Utena, Princess Knight, The Rose of Versailles, and even the more recent Le Chevalier D’Eon feature a woman set out to accomplish her goals under the guise of the freer gender. Fighting within an established patriarchal system this shows rebellion, power and strength of will. But in a world where this is the norm for female behavior, there is no impact to this kind of behavior. In a world where androgynous beauty is the highest form of aesthetic appeal in males, and men occupy the subservient jobs of house keepers, slaves, and laborers, the women who dress like men receive the same suspicious reaction that gay men received in our world until very recently. To dress down in order to be like the weaker gender is shocking and scandalous. The word lesbian is thrown around one of the emperor’s sisters like it is an offensive weakness that saps her strength and character. Sooha continues to dress in a masculine way despite her acknowledgement that to be manly will make her look weak in this world’s eyes. Far more important to her is to place humanity and justice above gender and societal roles.
(Spoilers) Unfortunately while Operation Liberate Men has some interesting social concepts and characters within the world that Lee reated, the plot jumps the shark on far more than one occasion. Volume 2 is especially bad about this. Volume 2 is the reason I thought it appropriate to include this book in “Drama Bomb Imports!”. The drama bombs are so very impressive.
In order to give more depth to a character it’s not uncommon in volume 2 for the dialogue to switch spontaneously to a disembodied narrator where previously the exposition had been delivered through the inner monologues of the main characters.
More than half way through the second volume the story jumps into Sooha’s past after our hero dramatically remembers another Para warrior she met less than a year ago. A mysterious warrior that appeared wounded in her bedroom and whom she inexplicably and completely forgot about. This heavy-handed plot point goes on for nearly 100 pages before getting back to the present day.
Oh, and there are also people in this world who have divine powers. The most powerful of whom have familiars called “divine spirits”. This isn’t revealed until roughly 40 pages into Sooha’s flashback to the strange Para warrior hiding out in her bedroom.
What Operation Liberate Men lacks in plot cohesiveness it more than makes up for in its fascinating look at discrimination and inequality, power and righteousness. At present there are 4 volumes of this Korean manhwa available through the publisher Netcomics, with all 9 volumes digitally available for pay through the website. At present Mira Lee has placed the series on hiatus in order to focus on her other work1, but the strong reception that it has garnered from the niche manhwa audience in America show that it does have a dedicated following2. Any further chapters are sure to be met with excitement. They will be digital comics though, since Netcomics is no longer offering a printed edition of this title.
Title: Operation Liberate Men vol 1 and 2
Artist and Writer: Mira Lee
USA Original Publisher: Netcomics 2007