Nutshell: Beautifully drawn, and a definite think-piece. Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but it doesn’t need to; it’s themes will haunt readers long after the small hiccups of characterization and pacing subside into distant memory. Plus, dragon. Big, badass dragon. B+
Story: Mark is broke, sick of getting passed up for promotion, and has a pregnant wife. Any wonder he jumps at his buddy Jason’s offer of a quick week of military contract work for easy money? Gotcha; that money ain’t gonna be easy, because Mark finds an injured child and decides to help the boy find his family. That leads to 10-year-old twins that head a band of rebels out for vengeance against those that would destroy their mountain. Oh, and that mountain? Houses a power Mark and Jason think is only reserved for LOTR fan-fiction and Big Trouble In Little China spin-offs. Will good-hearted Mark and roid-rage Jason be able to understand this strange new world? Let’s just say one’s got a better chance than the other.
“They told me not to shoot it. It’s bad luck…” — dude. Don’t you EVER watch genre films?
Thoughts: I grabbed an ARC of this graphic novel because I fell in love with the cover art. Asaf and Tomer Hanuka are incredibly talented, and their work is on-point throughout. The colors are just the right amount of off-kilter, with pinks thrown into the greens and browns of the jungle. Pink and lime colored soldiers of Leh. GINORMOUS pink and lime colored soldiers. Gore that is fascinating in it’s strange, pop-art beauty. And gritty, ugly, real American life.
Boaz Lavie’s storyline, however, isn’t quite as clear. Motivation wavers a bit — at first Mark is all about the Benjamins, then he sees a kid and switches to Hero mode immediately. It would have been better if there was a hint of longing for something different, better, from Mark at the beginning. But beyond the hope of a promotion to Dallas, there’s nothing there that would feed his drive to save this child beyond the cliche of soon-to-be-parent heartfeels. He’s also kind of a moron; after being told not to go further by the locals, Mark assumes the usual American self-assurance, and blows through anyway. Guess Jason isn’t the only one who doesn’t know how genre fiction works.
The Divine reminds me a bit of Ursula Le Guin’s The World For World Is Forest. The Divine has that same “underestimate at your peril” and “great is the power of nature” vibe. This one’s a tough one to fit into any one genre; like Saga, it’s got brilliant fantasy sequences, but it’s more than simply a fantastic tale. There’s gore that’s right up there with The Walking Dead, but there’s a beauty to it’s blood. Plus, Lavie bases The Divine on a pair of real-life twins — Johnny and Luther Htoo — who lead a gang of rebels in Myanmar at the tender age of 12. While most genre themes go about their business by hinting at possibilities, The Divine puts real life right in your face, and then uses fantasy to delve deeper into the motivation of children who would go that far in real life. Fascinating, thought-provoking, and a brilliant kick-off to a new year of graphic novels. I’ll forgive the light touch with characterizations, shifting ideals and (SPOILER) paucity of serious dragon on human ass-kicking, because this story has been hanging on my heart for the better part of this past weekend. And for that, The Divine scores a win.
Publication 411: Stand-alone graphic novel. Hits shelves 7/14/2015.