As a reader of graphic novels, I have to admit that I usually stay away from the experimental ones. I tend to find them confusing and more irritating than not because of that. In an attempt to broaden my horizons a wee bit, this week I’m taking a look at a strange little magical realism mash-up called The Divine. Written by Boaz Lavie and illustrated by Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka, it was reportedly inspired by a picture of some child soldiers in Burma and is a combination of fantastical myths and legends and a more modern day, US military versus native villagers type scenario.
The story begins in roughly present day America, with a young man who has left behind his days in the Army for a slightly safer civilian life as a family man and explosives consultant. But when an old Army buddy tells Mike that he can make some quick cash “denuding lava tubes” with his explosives knowledge and still be back in time for the birth of his child, Mike leaves for an obscure Southeast Asian country named Quanlom. The plan is that they’ll be in and out with a cool $20k military contract. Shockingly, it turns out to be a bit more complicated than that. A village of people living in the jungle aren’t exactly happy with the plans of the group that Mike has joined and an encounter with a pair of young twins leads Mike to question the choice to leave his family behind in pursuit of excitement and cash.
The Divine is the classic example of why I avoid these kinds of stories. It half feels like it’s trying to create a lecture via graphic novel and half feels like a story concocted while on mushrooms. The twins have some strange mystical powers and Mike gets entangled with some rather fantastical figures. The action is good and there are elements of the story that I liked, but the characters are bland and relatively uninteresting. Mike is your standard good white guy/soldier and when he stops to help an injured boy who turns out to be one of the twins, he gets swept up in a battle of nature vs big bad military. Too many of the characters felt like stereotypical cardboard figures. This felt like one of those stories that had potential but never really delivered on it. And the ending….I have no idea what was going on there. It’s entirely possible I just didn’t get it, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to read that much into a story to understand what the hell happened. All I could really take away from the divine is don’t mess with mystical village children.
To be honest, the art wasn’t particularly appealing to me. The creatures were gloriously fantastic and I really liked a lot of the landscape work but the people were total caricatures. Honestly the twins were the only ones who seemed to have much depth as characters even on an artistic level. Everyone else just seemed roughly sketched and tolerably drawn at best.
As far as broadening my horizons, The Divine was a bit of a mixed bag. The book definitely wasn’t my cup of tea but it has received a lot of praise so if you don’t mind strange artwork and a story that doesn’t actually have an ending that makes any sense, you might enjoy it. It does have interesting mystical elements to it and creepy children so it’s not all bad.