"Daomu" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Magnetic Press
Story by Kennedy Xu
Written by Colin Johnson
Illustrated by Ken Chou
2015, 244 Pages
Graphic novel released on February 26th, 2015
Sean Wu's life is turned upside down in quick succession after he meets his estranged father. Shortly after this meeting, his father is brutally murdered by a strange masked man, and Sean is whisked away by a secretive group of tomb raiders and told of his heritage that dates back ages. This was around where Daomu stops making sense and just becomes an amalgam of weird monsters and exposition-heavy segments that just gets more and more confusing. It's a bummer that my jumping-off point was about 30 pages into the 200+ page book.
Daomu is an adaptation of a best-selling series of Chinese novels which I have not read. I'm sure it's tough to adapt something from one medium to another, and in this case, it's not a success. Daomu fails the basic principles of comics. This is a collaborative medium. The writer and artist work together to tell a story. That is not the case here. Writer Colin Johnson fills the book with bulky, overly descriptive text instead of allowing artist Ken Chou to show what's happening. Case in point: There's a fight scene about 60 pages in where Johnson explains every action of the two people involved. I don't need you to tell me that the fat guy swung and missed because the artwork shows that. This comes up a lot. Additionally, there are segments that are described in such minute detail and boxes upon boxes of text that could have been shown in a single panel.
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This gets a little better as the book goes on, as Sean's narration is replaced by an omniscient Grave Robber's Journal, presumably written by his ancestors. This doesn't make much sense either, as it lines up with the story, over-explaining various elements and what's going on. Effects like this have worked in other titles, but not quite as ham-fisted. For example, Archer & Armstrong from Valiant Entertainment has these little pop up boxes explaining the fighting style that Archer is using in a given panel. It is quick little tidbit of information that shows what is happening without beating you over the head with it.
All of this is a shame because Chou's artwork is absolutely gorgeous. Every page is filled with these magnificent images that are unfortunately overshadowed by tons and tons of text. His style varies a bit based on the type of scene. For close up, personal shots, it's a more penciled look while big landscape images have a painted quality to them, like something you'd see hanging up in a gallery.
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There are some terrifying monsters spread throughout Daomu that Chou renders marvelously. None of them repeat either, so it's not like the same one keeps popping up. Every new tomb the cast enters reveals a new set of creatures ready to tear them apart. There's this great spider skeleton in the first third of the book that is so damn creepy. Some people are running away from it and get into a dark portion of the cave. Sean turns his flashlight on to reveal one of these spindly beasts right over him in a gorgeous full-page spread.
There's a good story buried within Daomu, but it's bogged down by so much exposition. This is surprising given the length of the graphic novel. With over 200 pages, there should have been plenty of room to clearly flesh out the story and the characters. As it stands, there are 2-4 organizations that are all infighting as they're robbing graves for some reason that's not entirely clear. The main character is a bit of a wet rag and basically just has stuff happen to him.