by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean
Hans “Hanzo” Steinbach’s A Midnight Opera
is a November-debuting Original English Language (OEL) heavy metal gothic opera manga from TOKYOPOP. A Midnight Opera
is a thrilling portrayal of love and betrayal that plumbs the depths of the human soul. Think Constantine
and Dawn of the Dead
with an overdose of Metallica and Iron Maiden.
Hanzo's sensibilities have been informed by his worldly travel and consequential understanding of many cultures. The Syrian-born artist of German descent was raised around the globe (Marseille, France; Bonn, Germany; Beirut, Lebanon; Ankara, Turkey; Montreal, Quebec; Beverly Hills, California), thanks to his diplomat parents. He also has a wide appreciation of music, old and new, classical and popular, with a particular affinity for heavy metal.
“I'm a big fan of horror movies and heavy metal, so combining those two would be an interesting concept,” Hanzo said. “Movies like Frankenstein vs the Wolfman
or Dracula vs Frankenstein
were big back in the old days, so bringing them back into our time, new and fresh would be a nice change of pace. For example, Frankenstein had his own brain inserted in his monster, now he's got the brain of a genius and the body of a titan.
“When I arrived in the States a few years ago, I noticed that TOKYOPOP books were everywhere. And after learning that TOKYOPOP was accepting submissions, I thought that maybe this was a chance to get something that may look a little indie from an American comics perspective published in a mainstream arena.
“The story [that] I [originally] submitted was a little too straight forward, too linear,” he continued. “At first, Einblick, the main character, was supposed to be an assassin who agreed to work with his lifelong rival, the Catholic church. The story was mission-based, so I couldn't really focus on how his personality would change as the story progresses. Now he's an undead, chain-smoking metalhead with a grudge. Luis Reyes, my editor, helped me out a lot in rewriting the story. The new story shares the exact same concept with the original story, but now it’s bigger and better. The guys at TOKYOPOP (Rob Tokar, Aaron Suhr and Luis) are great and they're always willing to help out.
“You'll see all kinds of popular "monsters" with an added twist throughout A Midnight Opera
. I'm also heavily inspired by the Phantom of the Opera
, because it's a rock horror themed opera which is exactly what I intended A Midnight Opera
In the world of A Midnight Opera
, the undead creatures have survived in a Europe driven by religious dogma for nearly a millennium by infiltrating and aiding groups bent on reformation and tolerance. As the centuries pass, and religion's stranglehold on society loosens, the undead begin to feel more comfortable nestled inconspicuously into regular, human life. “However, some among the undead feel that now is the time, in the midst of human complacency, to strike against the mortals, in a coup that would leave humanity at the mercy of the dark creatures,” Hanzo explained. “Of course, it is at a time of human complacency that dogmatic agents in the Catholic Church also feel ready to strike against “evil,” with just as little regard for the cost to human life. The power to stave this ultimate, destructive conflict between evil and righteousness rests in two wise and powerful undead brothers. But the only problem is they haven’t spoken to each other in a hundred and fifty years.”
The main characters in A Midnight Opera
are: “Einblick DeLaLune: An undead creature also known as a Strigoi, Ein is a vampire-like living corpse who is destined to roam the Earth for eternity. He died at childbirth, but awoke the next night afflicted with the "darkness." Raised by religious réformees, Ein and his younger brother Leroux—also afflicted with the mark of darkness, though Leroux’s is of the variety lupin, a brother of the wolf—were made orphans during an attack by Catholic Knights against a burgeoning Huguenot church. As a means of survival, Ein used his natural charisma and grace to allow himself, and his deeply religious, more powerful younger brother, to enter other Huguenot groups. Over the next several centuries, the two become figureheads of the Huguenot cause as well as secret leaders of the undead protection movement, bringing disenfranchised “dark ones” into a community where they can live without the burden of being feared or hunted. As time wears on, Ein begins focusing less on the movement and more on his true love, music. He starts a career as an opera singer, where he meets and falls in love with Christine. However, on the opening night of the opera in which Ein and Christine star, Christine is struck with a mystical affliction and dies on stage, in Ein’s arms. Ein, convinced that the jealousy of his younger brother provoked him to curse the one thing in Ein’s life he felt deeply for, flees, never to be heard from again… until now. Exploding onto the underground music scene, Ein has re-invented himself as a heavy metal songster with the potential to become an idol for the dejected, the defeated and the disenfranchised.
“Leroux DeLaLune: Leroux was made a lycanthrope lupin at birth, from the same mystical energy that afflicted his older brother. However, Leroux’s transformation from human to creature was complete, a synthesis of the undead and the lycanthropy. Though powerful, Leroux is spiritually lost, lacking the charisma of his older brother and yearning for an emotional core to his being. When the two become entwined with the Huguenot movement, Leroux finds comfort in the new religious doctrine, able to establish a direct connection with God rather than corruptible priests. As the years pass, Leroux finds himself more and more enamored of strict discipline and spiritual focus. Therefore, when he finds his brother drifting away from what Leroux considers the only true path, preferring to indulge his thirst for music and, later, actual romantic love, Leroux grows restless and desperate. Ein’s love for Christine finally pushes Leroux over the edge. Leroux is convinced by Elizabeth, another member of their movement, to use a dark, pagan magic to hex Christine, with the purpose of eliminating Ein’s distraction and bringing the lost brother back into the fold. Instead of releasing Ein from the world’s power and bringing him back, Leroux only ends up pushing Ein farther away, mortified and ruined by the death of his love. Leroux, now abandoned, finds comfort in the arms of Elizabeth, who ostensibly shares Leroux’s religious convictions. Over a century later, when he discovers that Elizabeth is more poisonous to his cause than Ein ever was, he seeks out the help of his now estranged older brother.
“Elizabeth Bathory: Daughter of pagan witches of noble status, Elizabeth escapes an attack by Catholic Knights on her home and hides out in the nearby woods, only to run into Ein, Leroux and a whole clan of Réformee warriors intent on defending all against persecution. Losing her family in the attack, she joins Ein and Leroux. But she often wonders why, if the dark creatures are more powerful, they must supplicate themselves to the inferior mortals. She has always had more affection for Leroux, drawn mainly to his tremendous power, but also to their shared sense of superiority. Elizabeth clearly sees the brothers for their true natures: Ein as the peacemaker, Leroux as the muscle. As Ein drifts away from the movement, Elizabeth uses the opportunity to turn Leroux against his brother, and subsequently bring him closer to her. She encourages Leroux to use a black magic curse, employed often by her family, to cause the love between the two singers to dissolve. What she doesn’t mention is that the curse dissolves the love by literally dissolving one of the lovers, and Christine ends up the curse’s physical victim. After Ein flees, Elizabeth uses the sorrow that consumes Leroux to wrest control away from him, and over many years, she build herself legions of undead warriors, who are now poised to dominate mankind once and for all.”
The newcomer creator (or manga-ka, depending on which side of the Atlantic you’re living in) is a fan of Koroshiya Ichi
, Blade of the Immortal
, The Guyver
, Todd McFarlane’s Spawn
, Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball
and especially Go Nagai’s Devilman
. “Go Nagai’s intensity really had an impact on me when I was younger,” he said. “I am also highly influenced by music, both metal and classical. My music influences include guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen as well as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody, Dark Moor, Stratovarius and Symphony X.”
With A Midnight Opera
, “I'm trying to combine fact and fiction, historical facts with fictitious (and not so fictitious) characters. As a heavy metal gothic opera, I hope that my story will be a genre of its own. The plan currently is to get all three books published by next summer, but the schedule has not been locked down yet.”
The first volume of Hanzo’s A Midnight Opera
is scheduled to be in stores in November.
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