Writer: Boaz Lavie
Artists: Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka
Publisher: First Second
Back in 2000, a photographer in Thailand snapped a photo of 12-year-old twins Luther and Johnny Htoo, leaders of a band of Karen refugees who fought the Myanmar army which they said had dispossessed them of their land. The boys were reputed to have magical powers, being immune to bullets and land mines
Miraculously, they survived their guerrilla war and are in their late 20s today.
The image of child soldiers, one chomping a cigar, struck comics creators Asaf and Tomer Hanuka – also twin brothers – who were intrigued and perturbed by its depiction of “childhood without childhood”. And it inspired this graphic novel, written by filmmaker and game designer Boaz Lavie and drawn by the Hanukas.
It’s a dark fantasy, veering off the dirt road of reality onto a beautifully drawn (though no less disturbingly violent than actual strife-torn lands close by) fictional country named Quanlom.
A former American soldier named Mark, an explosives expert, gets drawn into the ongoing struggle there when he reluctantly accepts a military job offer from his pal Jason.
The job is simple: blow up a mountain – in fancier terms, “lava tube denuding” – in Quanlom to allow access to valuable mineral deposits. The problem is, the mountain is sacred to the people who live in the vicinity; and things really get hairy for Mark when he falls into the clutches of the rebels, led by young twin brothers Luke and Thomas (inspired by the Htoo twins, obviously).
Do they really have magical powers? Is it all in Mark’s head, after getting fed a steady diet of tall tales from Jason and assorted local superstitions?
The bottom line is that this is not an easy story to read either way. The atrocities committed on both sides – or most times, just their aftermath – are disquieting.
The violence is startling, with innocent lives lost and innocents prepared to do ghastly things for their cause (or just self-preservation), and sometimes you can’t help feeling sorry even for the nominal bad guys of the piece.
While The Divine is beautifully illustrated, the story as a whole has a hollow feel. The characters are rather one-note and the stilted dialogue doesn’t help us gain any insight into their struggles and motivations, nor does it help make us care.
And rather than feel anything remotely like sympathy for the twins, or revulsion at those responsible for turning them into such soulless killers, we merely feel alienated.
Which is a pity, because it squanders the potential of this intriguing premise and its unusual inspiration.
The Divine is available at Kinokuniya, Suria KLCC. Call 03-2164 8133 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.kinokuniya.com/my.