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Comic Review: John Woo’s 7 Brothers

Created by John Woo, written by Garth Ennis and drawn by Jeevan Kang

7 Brothers was one of the first titles to come from Virgin Comics, the attempt by Richard Branson to get into the comic book business. Despite having very silly credits on the inside cover – ‘Chief Visionaries’? – the level of creative star power behind the output is formidable, with some talented people at the helm.

If you had asked me if John Woo was going to come up with a comic book, I would have thought you were taking the piss. Yet, here we are – a story by John Woo, the man of heroic bloodshed, honour among friends, loyalty and Chow Yun Fat. Life is very strange sometimes.

Being a famous film director, Woo doesn’t have the time to actually write the comic book in question. Fortunately, they decided to hire somebody who could, and do it well. Is there any company Ennis hasn’t written for? Marvel, DC, Image, Acclaim, Avatar – he just doesn’t care. Which is good for us.

The first issue, ‘Son of Heaven, Son of Hell’, introduces us to the Chinese treasure fleet of 1421, the discovery of the new world and how it was written out of history. With some evocative art by Kang, this is an enchanting and atmospheric start to a story – not what one would expect from Woo or Ennis.

So we jump to the modern times (which somehow makes the art seem slightly strange in comparison – it is competent and stylish and the backgrounds are realistic, but it feels odd when it comes to the people, like the faces aren’t right or something), where we meet a ridiculous wannabe pimp, calling himself Double-Double, a silly-looking black American who gets dissed by his hoped-for hos and beaten by their real pimps, only to be saved by a Chinese woman who seems to have beaten the men by going back in time …

The woman is Rachel Kim, and she takes Double-Double, real name Ronald, to six other men she has brought together: Robert Akimbe, from Africa; Daniel Falling Water, a native American; Barry Hooker, from Australia; Gabriel Castillo, from South America; Jagadish Verna, from India; and Muhammed Ridwan Salim, from the Middle East. They are all in LA after getting a cheque for $50K and an offer of $50K more.

Rachel then tells the men of their special abilities: Daniel can run very fast; Robert can see beyond the horizon; Barry can hear over vast distances; Jagdish can find things that are lost by picturing them in his mind; Muhammed shot down a gunship with his voice when he screamed at it; Gabriel can jump very far. Having heard this, it convinces them to stay. Meanwhile, there is an expedition to find the last resting of place of the ‘Son of Hell’.

In the next issue, Rachel tells the brothers the history of the treasure fleet, how it had a sorcerer to protect it – the Son of Hell. He had an apprentice, Fong, who was learning everything, including the sorcerer’s true plans: the mapping of the Dragon Lines, the power of Earth’s elemental energy concentrated into unseen lines of power. The sorcerer placed control stones at every intersection of the Dragon Lines, so that he would rule and possess their power. Fong knows he had to stop him but he is not ready, so he put a mojo on his seed and impregnates women on the seven continents to leave seven children … When further voyages were banned, the sorcerer cursed the fleet to everlasting torment, and Fong battles him under the ground and brings the earth down on them.

In current time, a man called Zheng is trying to negotiate between the New York gangs – he removes a boss’s eye with a chopstick and informs them that he has killed their wives and children. That’s negotiation for you.

Rachel is the last of Fong’s normal children in China, who has been told of what happened and what is needed: the Son of Hell would return and the seven brothers would stop him. Now, the Son of Hell has returned and Robert can see him. The Son of Hell has eaten the brains of Jack Donald, a vastly wealthy man, in order to be him in the real world, getting Zheng to help him …

Zheng is to be the sorcerer’s bodyguard as he aims to rule the world – Robert can see this and Barry can hear it. The brothers argue (as brothers do), while the sorcerer sends his men to deposit stones to the locations of the Dragon Lines. The brothers go to the address that Jagdish was able to attain, only to be met by Zheng. Rachel tries to use her magic but Zheng is ahead of her, and he kills the brothers …

Ronald finds himself in a cold place but he is counselled by Fong, who tells him that Ronald can lead the brothers out of hell. Ronald finds them all, leads them out and brings them back to life, surprising the cops standing over their bodies. They see Rachel being knocked out of a skyscraper by Zheng after fighting him, and Gabrielle jumps to save her. Ronald tells them that Fong said that Ronald would know how to stop the sorcerer, but he has no idea what that is …

The final issue sees the confrontation between the brothers and the Son of Hell, who is now a conduit for the power of the Dragon Lines. The six brothers use their abilities to find the way to defeat the sorcerer, while Ronald realises the real reason why they are called Dragon Lines …

I have to admit that I wasn’t too sure what to expect of Garth Ennis creating a comic book from an idea by John Woo, but it wasn’t this. I was pleasantly surprised. Not that Ennis doesn’t know how to tell a good tale; the man’s a natural born storyteller. But this is actually an entertaining story, told well and a nice idea. The art is a little on the painted/scratchy side for my personal tastes, but it conveys the mix of the old and the new, incorporating talking heads and violence and Chinese legend. It makes me want to see it as a film, but I know that they won’t make it – the mix of the fantasy and the swearing/ultraviolence is not cineplex-friendly. That’s what comics are for, aren’t they?

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