I was all about Spider-Man and the X-Men as a kid, but now that I’ve rediscovered comics as an adult, I’m trying to broaden my horizons. To that end, I suppose The Divine qualifies as my first manga-style comic. I was drawn to the setting. It’s ostensibly set in a mythical country called Quanlom, and there are suggestions of Thailand or Vietnam, but it’s Burma, a particular point of interest (my wife’s family is from Burma).
I know it’s Burma because two of the characters are based on infamous Karen child soldiers Johnny and Luther Htoo. The story is told through the perspective of Mark, though, retired military who gets dragged into doing contract work in Quanlom by his buddy Jason.
Knowing the history, and about Burma, doesn’t help. The sort of changes that I’ve come to expect are made. And, while I’m thankful that The Divine is a standalone, it’s too short—and too conventional—to be effective. The combination makes for a story less compelling than the history. Luther and Johnny Htoo (pronounced “too”) were the stars of their stories, not a couple uninteresting westerners. Luther and Johnny are Karen, and the Karen are a Christian people. Luther and Johnny’s mystique reflected that—among their reported powers was an ability to quote the Bible despite never having read it—but that is lost in favor of generic orientalism. The U.S. has never been the villain in Burma, except perhaps by committing sins of omission, but what we get is the usual fever dream where Americans always star as the villains and it’s always about resources.
That’s really too bad. The art, heavy on greens, is emphatic and evocative. It’s striking when used to show Thomas ripping the spines from soldiers or enormous statue warriors or great oriental dragons.