A dying samurai has one chance for survival, but it comes with a terrible price — his soul will be forever bonded to an oni, and he will become immortal. Luckily or unluckily for this samurai, the choice is out of his hands when the tattoo artist who finds him on the verge of death performs the ritual that will seal his fate.
“The Immortal: Demon in the Blood,” shipping in December from Dark Horse, explores the consequences not only of living forever but also being gifted and cursed in such a way that it is impossible to keep to the shadows. The four-issue miniseries is written by “Victorian Undead” creator and “2000AD” regular Ian Edginton with art by “New Exiles” penciller VicenÃ§ Villagrasa. While largely known for his original creations, “The Immortal” expands upon a popular Japanese novel written by Fumi Nakamura entitled “Enma the Immortal.”
Comic Book Resources spoke with Edginton about the miniseries, adapting a novel to comics while putting his own spin on things and cursed tattoos.
CBR News: Ian, your series is based on “Enma the Immortal,” a novel by Fumi Nakamura. How did this book first come to your attention and what made it so catch your interest?
Ian Edginton: I was approached by Dark Horse to see if I would be interested in adapting the original novel. I’ve worked on a whole raft of film, TV and game licensed properties over the years, so I think they thought I was probably a good fit for the role!
“The Immortal” has a fairly straightforward premise — a dying samurai is made immortal, thanks to the oni, the demon spirit, that’s been bound within him via the oni-gome, a unique tattoo on his hand. We then chart his journey throughout the long years of his immortal life. It’s a supernatural adventure story but it’s the character of Amane and those who cross his path that really involves and engages you. It examines what it would be like practically to live for so long. What steps you have to take to preserve your anonymity and how it affects your relationship within others knowing that you’ll always outlive them.
Does “The Immortal” adapt Nakamura’s book or use it as a starting point for something else?
Initially, the plan was to do a straight, albeit heavily abridged, adaptation of the novel. That said, it’s a big book and a lot goes on, so trying to fit everything into a four-issue series was always going to be tight. The danger was that we’d have to pare the story back to such a degree that it would become almost nonsensical.
Everyone went away and had a re-think and the upshot was that the miniseries would be based on the novel but instead of trying to cover everything, it would focus on just a two or three plot-lines that cover several time periods in Amane’s life. The series would end at natural point in the story but there would be more than enough material left for another series if need be.
The first issue, for example, is pretty much straight out of the original novel, there was no point in tinkering with it as it set everything up perfectly. The issues following, though, are set years afterwards and that’s where I was asked by the folks behind the novel to work in some — sometimes radical — changes from the book. Because the time period is when the West began to have a heavy influence on the East — martial, financial and cultural — I was asked to take that idea and run with it. I was told to steampunk it up and so that’s the way we’ve done it. It’s not overt, it’s more like set dressing. It doesn’t affect the core story but it does make for some very cool visuals!
Who is Amane before he receives the cursed tattoo? What drives him, and how did he come to be hunted by his fellow samurai?
He’s a samurai but he feels it’s more a burden than an honour. His family were dirt poor but some twist of fate happened in their past that meant they could call themselves samurai and were bestowed with the right to bare arms. It didn’t change their situation though.
After the death of his parents, Amane is raised by his older sister. When she’s murdered, he no longer has any ties to the world. He’s completely rootless, without friends or family anywhere and so becomes a drifter. More by luck than judgement he stumbles into a job as a spy. At this point in time, there’s nationwide civil unrest going on as various factions, some Samurai, try to overthrow centuries of feudal reign. There are warring factions all over the place, it’s chaos. Amane is hired to spy on a particular band of Samurais but he finds he likes their company. For the first time in ages he feels at home, that he belongs and is valued. He’s also a rubbish spy, reporting little of use to his masters.
However, this can’t last forever. When he’s found out, his newfound friends turn on him and he finds himself on the run and fighting for his life.
Can you tell us anything about why the tattoo artist chooses to save Amane and bind him to this oni?
The tattooist, Baikou, is an old man and dying. Despite being a cantankerous old goat, he doesn’t have long left and wants to pass on his gift. Years before he bound an oni within himself, giving it possession of his soul, in exchange for his becoming the greatest (but not necessarily the most famous) tattoo artist around.
When he finds Amane dying on his doorstep, begging to be saved, he sees an opportunity to pass his skills on. He did have an apprentice before Amane, but he proved to be a big disappointment — actually that’s something of an understatement. Yasha, Amane’s predecessor, was impatient to learn Baikou’s talent for applying the oni-gome and tattooed one onto himself. Naturally, it went horribly wrong and now he has to consume a living human heart every few years to keep the oni from running riot inside him and eating his soul.
I like Yasha, he’s very dry and sly and arrogant but he’s not your typical ‘black hat’ villain though. He’s not evil through and through. He knows that he’s put himself in this terrible situation and does what he has to in order to deal with it. He doesn’t want to kill people but he figures, rather them than him. He also make a point of singling out those people who actually want to die for one reason or another. When their bodies are found, they look peaceful and content, despite having a bloody great hole in their chest where their heart’s been ripped out!
In his new station, what sort of things will Amane — now calling himself Enma — have to contend with?
Mainly it’s the practicalities of being immortal. Naturally, he has to keep a low profile but his great skill as a tattoo artist has the habit of attracting attention, so he moves around every few decades, setting up shop in a new town or city. After a while, even that isn’t enough as his reputation precedes him and people start to notice that he’s not aged a day. He’s forced to pass himself off as his own son or younger brother but that ruse only lasts for so long. Fortunately he’s acquired a friend or two along the way, people whose lives he’s saved by applying their own oni-gome and who cover for him if need be. They’re not immortal like Amane, but have had the oni-gome applied as a means of combating an addiction or affliction. It’s a kind of symbiotic relationship, each one is unique to that person. The oni is given a human host in exchange for ridding that host of whatever ails him. How this came to be, we don’t know, but it’s definitely a story I’d like to look into in another series.
Amane has always been an outsider so this isolated existence doesn’t really bother him. However, when he’s forced by circumstance to be surrogate father to Natsu, the young daughter of one of the samurai he betrayed years before, it throws him a complete curveball. He now has to factor someone else into his life, and a child at that. The problem is children grow up and attractive young women have a habit of attracting attention, including that of another tattooed immortal.
You’ve done a lot of big science fiction stories, but this seems to be more mystical horror. Is this an itch you’ve been wanting to scratch? How is it similar or different from the work you do for “2000AD,” or in Top Cow’s “Pilot Season” one-shots?
I’ve done some mystical/supernatural stuff for “2000AD” such as “Stickleback,” “Leviathan” and “Ampney Crucis Investigates” and then of course there are the “Victorian Undead” series for DC. What I like about “The Immortal,” though, is the setting, the period and location. It’s a sort of surreal splice of the Tsui Hark movies, “Zu Warriors,” “A Chinese Ghost Story” and Jee-woon Kim’s “The Good, The Bad, The Weird.” It supernatural steampunk with samurai, what’s not to like! It’s been a lot of fun to write.
The artist for the series is VicenÃ§ Villagrasa. Had you worked with him before? What does his style bring to the story you’re telling?
We’d not worked together before but I like what I’ve seen so far. I haven’t seen much of the artwork past the first issue yet, so I’m looking forwards to seeing all the steampunk stuff.
You mentioned that the four-issue “The Immortal: Demon in the Blood” only deals with parts of the original novel. Do you see yourself doing more, or have you provided more of a finite conclusion.
The way it’s been left there’s room for at least another series, perhaps more. The character of Amane himself and the whole premise has tons of potential. We’ve barely scratched the surface here. On the one hand, there’s the future on Amane and his eternal battle with Yasha but also there’s [a] whole back story to explore regarding Baikou and the origin of the oni-gome tattoos. The oni aren’t passive creatures, they’re demons, so why would they permit themselves to be bound inside a human form? What happened that such a deal could be struck? Who struck it and why?
“The Immortal: Demon in the Blood” #1 leaves its mark December 21.