Written by Dan Capel, Mark Long, Christopher McQuarrie
Based on works by Akira Kurosawa
Art by Mario Stilla
Release Date: August 20, 2013
Cover Price: $22.45
Akira Kurosawa’s work is legendary and rises beyond the test of time. It’s long lasting, and has been reinterpreted millions of times in a manner of ways, from Spaghetti Westerns to a “Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away.” Along comes Rubicon, a graphic novel from Archaia Entertainment – the newest reimagining of Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, though placed in the environment of the modern Afghanistan war.
Rubicon focuses (mainly) on a group of SEALs and Special Forces, in a situational conflict in Afghanistan that is very loosely based on the Kurosawa classic. Facing a group of insurgents largely supported and controlled by the Taliban, the group of elite troops opt to focus on safeguarding a small village that harvests poppies, rather than their own base of operations.
Uniting with the locals, and providing weapons and training, the troops’ aim is to release the villagers and farmers from the grip and oppression of the Taliban in the area, and give them the ability to defend themselves. It is a dark journey and battle they all face, with much to lose before something is gained.
The writing of Rubicon is fair, with a great deal of attention paid on accuracy as far as martial lingo and relationships are concerned. This works to the advantage of the story, with great respect paid not only to the US troops in the tale, but the local Afghanistan villagers as well. The contemporary backdrop is nice for a Kurosawa-style tale, but no less sobering or enlightening.
While it is an interesting read, Rubicon suffers from its presentation in graphic novel format. There are many frames without much explanatory context in places, that may lose some readers; as its plot would probably better be placed in video or movie, or even as a novelization where context is explained.
Whereas the disorientation factor may be deliberate to convey the difficulty of warzones, it is less effective as a storytelling device, and I’m afraid the graphic novel suffers because of it.
The art is of an excellent standard. It’s gritty and down-to-earth. Stereotypes are forgotten as the artists along with the writers show major respect to the representation of all sides in the conflict. The depictions of the SEALs are nicely done in the artwork as with the writing. There are a lot of explosions, detonations, and battle sequences that are actually beautiful and chilling at the same time – though taking into account it’s a war zone, they hold back on the gore quite a bit.
The Kurosawa narratives often come with great symbolism, though in Rubicon, I felt that much of this was underplayed. On the surface, it was a great story, but the value and conflict between loss and gain within the context of virtue in war is the only element that bubbles through strongly. Many of the iconic symbolic dabs from Seven Samurai are in there, but either undervalued or rushed, and it takes away from the power of the tale.
That being said, the seeds bedded with Rubicon could flourish into something bigger. I can envision this tale as a brilliant movie; after all, most of Kurosawa’s tales were born for the silver screen. Rubicon, as a movie, would be sobering and unsettling, and the symbolism would be much easier to portray in that fashion – as well as the battle sequences.
Don’t get me wrong though – I’m not attempting to badmouth the graphic novel. It IS a good read, and it’s a refreshing change. It’s worth the look, but it’s impossible to not imagine its potential as a filmed work. Consider checking it out, and if you do, you’ll see what I mean.
Overall Rating: 3½ out of 5