It takes guts to homage one of the most highly regarded films of all-time (Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai), but much like the characters in Rubicon, if you don’t at least try to do something against the insurmountable, there really isn’t much point to it all. A book about the modern conflict in Afghanistan, written in part by a former American Navy SEAL, isn’t typically what I would pick up off the shelf but Rubicon’s connection to Seven Samurai intrigued me, so I decided to put my preconceived notions aside and give it a go. While it was not a heroic effort like the SEALs in the book, it does parallel the idea that if you try something new, you may be surprised at what you find in yourself.
We are taken into the story following a suicide bombing at a base in Afghanistan. A SEAL team of four soldiers is called in to get to the bottom of it. After capturing the bomb maker and giving him to an Afghani village to deal with (as his bomb was strapped to one of their residents), the villagers decide to let him go as a show of good faith to the Taliban. Things do not go how they thought they would when the Taliban wants to exact revenge on the village for seemingly working with the Americans, and in the process, taking their opium harvest. Joined by two members of the Forward Operating Base (comically referred to as Fobbits), an eager-to-please young soldier who wants to do something glorious and a battle hardened army ranger with something to prove, helping these villagers may have a higher cost than they expect. This leaves the group of six with a dilemma. Technically, their duty to their country is finished but possibly at the cost of even more lives. At this point, they look beyond borders and decide they still have a duty to protect these innocent farmers from imminent attack – but are these farmers truly that innocent? What will the SEALs do when they find out?
The original idea for Rubicon came from a conversation between acclaimed screenwriter and director Christopher MacQuarrie (The Usual Suspects, Jack Reacher) and Dan Capel (founding member of SEAL Team Six, most famously known for taking down Osama Bin Laden). What if you took Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai and place it in the context of the ongoing war in Afghanistan? I admit, it’s a rather nice take on the idea. Opium fields instead of rice, SEALs instead of Samurai, the Taliban in place of bandits – it’s a fresh look and with the addition of modern weapons, makes the battles more intense. Capel took the idea and formed it into a story, which one can assume is a very realistic view of soldiers in combat, and then passed it off to the capable hands of writer Mark Long (The Silence of Our Friends, HAWKEN). The story is fast paced and exciting, though sometimes at the detriment of some character building, especially in the case of the love story subplot. I also was not a fan of the gratuitous, exploitive nudity at the beginning of the book, though this is mostly just a personal beef with most comics in general. I find it unpalatable in a book where it does not attribute to the story in any way. However, the way the story is crafted is superb and respectful to the source material, hitting all the right marks while at the same time, making it their own.
I would like to spotlight designers Brian and Scott Newman. The book is beautifully pieced together and the heavily redacted introduction page truly gets you into the right frame of mind before beginning the story. I feel that the contributions of book designers aren’t regarded enough in the industry, and work this good should be highlighted.
The art in the book fell to relative newcomer to the comic book scene, Italian illustrator Mario Stilla, with beautiful colouring by Howling Monkey Studios. For the most part, Stilla’s lay outs were well done, though sometimes looked a tad stiff. I think one of my biggest gripes would be some of the character designs. Three of the the four main SEALs are all big burly men with beards. Now, even though I do have quite the predilection for Bears, if it wasn’t for each character having a different coloured beard (which let me identify them as Red Beard, Brown Beard and Black Beard), they would be completely indistinguishable. That said, Stilla shines when it came to the designs for the two wannabe-SEAL Fobbists. The all-American good looks, complete with baseball cap adorned with an American flag, truly transforms Corporal Martin Jenkins into the young, idealistic soldier he is meant to be portrayed as. As for Rodney Bolton, the Ranger with a chip on his shoulder, Stilla filled me with all sorts of joy and glee. He perfectly captured everything I loved about the character of Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai, from the way he had Bolton sling his gun behind his head (in place of Kikuchiyo’s giant sword), to the disjointed, ape-like postures of actor Toshirô Mifune— capturing the essence of the character and at the same time, paying the highest respects to the actor who influenced so many others in how to play that archetype. By displaying that brilliance, Stilla shows that he has it in him to be a great sequential artist and I eagerly anticipate his future projects.
As homages go, Rubicon is very well done: respectful to the source while still adding something new to keep it fresh and interesting. Seven Samurai has inspired other works before (e.g., the classic western, The Magnificent Seven) and this book can safely be added to the list. It’s sometimes hard to separate works and judge them on their own merits (especially since Seven Samurai is one of my all-time favourite films) and I believe those of you out there who haven’t seen the film will enjoy Rubicon even more— especially fans of Andy Diggle and Jock’s The Losers and Nathan Edmonson and Mitch Gerads The Activity.
Rubicon is available now at your local comic book shop, courtesy of Archaia Entertainment and Meteor Entertainment. Add your thoughts in the comments below or find me on Twitter @ThisIsMyTruth and tell me how right or wrong I am. I can take it!