by Andy Wolverton
The first thing you realize after reading the opening pages of Rubicon is its authenticity. Even if you know little about Afghanistan and the American military presence there, what you read and see in Rubicon certainly feels authentic. And it should. The story — based on an idea by Oscar-winning screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (The Usual Suspects) — comes from Dan Capel, one of the founding members of SEAL Team Six, a guy who no doubt knows a thing or two about American soldiers serving in Afghanistan. That authenticity gives the graphic novel a strong driving force.
Early in the story, an event occurs (which I will not disclose) that creates a dangerous situation for a local Afghan village. The villagers know that the Taliban will soon raid the village for its upcoming opium harvest, leaving many villagers dead and all of them destitute. The village elders decide their only hope lies with the Americans in the forward operating base, or FOB, nearby, if they can somehow convince them to help. At least that’s the story the Americans are told. A handful of paramilitary Navy SEAL operatives are forced to quickly decide just what’s going on here: are the villagers being completely honest with them, or is it a trick?
If the story — written by Mark Long (The Silence of Our Friends, Shrapnel) — sounds familiar, that’s because it’s borrowed from director Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai, a film that has inspired countless homages since its debut in 1954. The idea is a good one and one that succeeds in the graphic novel format more often than it doesn’t.
While Capel’s experience and level of authenticity come across powerfully, sometimes the detail creates potential stumbling blocks. Readers unfamiliar with modern military procedures and parlance might miss a few things, although most references can be deduced from the context. A bigger problem occurs in the layout of people and places. In the midst of several of the battle scenes, readers may be disoriented and confused about who’s fighting who and where. Those issues aside, Mario Stilla’s artwork is exceptional and often breathtaking both in its beauty and in the awfulness of war. (I am not familiar with Stilla’s work beyond Rubicon, but I’m very eager to see more.)
Although the creators don’t dwell on character development, we do get some interesting looks at some of the SEALs and their personal lives, as well as an interesting perspective of several of the Afghan villagers. Even with a handful of SEALs, however, identifying and keeping them all straight can be a challenge. For example, two SEALs in the book have nearly the same hair and beard styles, with their hair/beard color appearing just slightly different.
The graphic novel concludes with a two-page interview with Mark Long and brief information about the creators. While not perfect, Rubicon is a fast-paced, engaging graphic novel that’s certainly worth your time and a must-read for fans of war comics.
Suggested for mature readers.
Get your copy of Rubicon, as well as other works by Mark Long: