For its first three or so volumes, Banya: The Explosive Delivery Man had set up a good, regular groove, and seemed to be thriving in it. The premise was nifty and creative: Postal worker in grim, vaguely post-apocalyptic setting braves all manner of challenges — human, natural and supernatural — to deliver his cargo on-time and on-budget. Then at the end of Volume 3 (something that I could really only talk about now in the context of Volume 4), author and artist Kim Young-Oh sprung a twist on us — something meant to widen the scope of his story a bit and dig into the past of his main character.
At the end of the last volume, Banya and his young sidekick postman-in-training Kong were charged with delivering a young girl (wanted by the authorities for her magical powers) to safety. After being cornered by a gang of assorted plug-uglies, something inside Banya snaps and he turns into a one-man slaughter machine. And right before his enemies are torn in half, they realize they’ve seen this man before. That’s right — before Banya was a postman, he was a “Slayer,” one of a group of elite government assassins, but apparently went rogue, butchered the rest of his company, and then (conveniently) lost his memory. It takes another gang of goons going after Banya to bring this information to the surface — and this time, when faced with the prospect of death, Banya provokes himself into unleashing the demon within.
Here’s my problem with this plot twist: I’m not convinced we needed it. Banya was already interesting, all by himself, without suddenly requiring some monstrous part of his earlier life to rear its head and cause havoc. Not everyone needs a full backstory, and certainly not one that involves psychotic bloodshed and tragedy. It’s the kind of thing that teeters on the brink of becoming distracting instead of involving. Granted, there have been hints about this sprinkled throughout the story; it’s not as if this hasn’t been set up to some degree. It’s just irritating to me, because it feels like the author doesn’t have confidence in the character as he is, and so has to trot this Tragic Past material out to punch him up further. But like it or not, it’s here to stay, and we do at least have the privilege of seeing it handled with a great deal of action-movie gusto.
But by the second half of this volume, and in the aftermath of Banya’s second psychotic episode (am I alone in thinking that one would have sufficed for now?), the book falls back on another tactic that I’m no fan of: when things start to stall, stir in another character. And so to that end we get Muah, a wandering swordsman with a weapon that has a mind — and a mouth — of its own. His function seems mostly to serve as backup for Banya when he can’t fend for himself. Actually, there’s at least one previously-familiar face also brought back into the mix: Jiahn, the priestess from a previous volume, now re-employed in the story as the fulfiller of a key prophecy and a convenient explainer of mythic backstory when needed. In the end, Banya’s re-hired to bring Jiahn to “The Land of Death,” where her powers can be used to set everything a-right — we hope.
Yes, maybe my grousing about Banya’s past is misplaced. It’s a pet peeve more than anything else, and I’ve done my best to set it aside. Because outside of that, this is still a fun series with a nifty premise — although from what I understand there’s only one volume left to go (so that’s why we’re getting this whole backstory thing now). And that pricetag is still a tad high — but let’s face it, there’s far worse things you could be spending your money on, right?