Sunday 27 April 2014

Rubicon (by Mark Long, Christopher McQuarrie, Dan Capel, Rebecca Taylor, Mario Stilla) - A review


Location: Afghanistan
Creators: Mark Long, Christopher, McQuarrie, Dan Capel, Rebecca Taylor, Mario Stilla
Publisher/Year: Archaia/2013
Genre: Adventure (War)
Theme: A retelling of Seven Samurai in the form of a tale about a Navy SEAL team defending an Afghan village from Taliban insurgents

Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa's classic film about a ragtag group of warriors who come together to defend a village from a group of bandits, has been adapted in numerous countries and in many forms, most notably in the form of western The Magnificent Seven. This graphic novel attempts to take the tried and tested story and adapt it to the tale of a Navy SEAL team in Afghanistan, defending a small village from Taliban insurgents attempting to take the village's opium produce.

The story itself is pretty standard, and chances are you've all watched one version of it or another at some point. What matters is how well it's adapted. The parallels are pretty obvious, making it a fairly smooth adaptation for the Afghan setting with straight swaps. The Navy SEALs largely embody the Samurai character archetypes seen in the original, while remaining fairly accurate about how SEAL teams accurate (or so I assume, given that one of the people involved, Dan Capel, was a SEAL Team Six founder). The villagers remain similar, worried about the threat facing them while also apprehensive about the danger these new 'defenders' would attract. The bandits are replaced by the Taliban (who for some reason seem to be cosplaying as Mongols).

It's an effective swap that works well, but therein lies the main problem with this book - it tries too much to adapt the storyline to a new setting without truly giving it any originality. Even subplots that don't add anything to this particular story get adapted, leading to a general sense that it's point for point substitution without any true substance. This is a downright shame, as the elements are clearly there. It's just that they have not extended the bare minimum in an original direction to make the most of the tale. The characterisation is decent, but it never strives to go beyond bare archetypes common in such stories, where most such adaptations use minor modifications to add some specific depth.

The setting is well captured in Mario Stilla's art, as are the local people (with the aforementioned exception of the oddly dressed Taliban fighters). The writing features inputs from enough people with military experience that this comes through in a realistic manner, while McQuarrie's screenwriting experience (he won an Oscar for The Usual Suspects) helps plot the tale in a manner that suggests it would work well on the screen (indeed, a TV prequel was commissioned).

On the whole, it's a solid piece of work that is well put together and is a natural adaptation. My main complaint is that it comes off slightly bland and unoriginal, which is a bit disappointing considering it has all the elements to be a good tale and a strong team working on it.

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