Archaia’s graphic novel, Rubicon, draws its inspiration from the classic Akira Kurosawa film, The Seven Samurai (1954), which tells the story of seven Japanese warriors who protect a small farming village from marauding bandits, but soon learn that their hosts are not as innocent as they seem.
Modernizing this classic and influential story, Long, McQuarrie, and Capel have set their story in current-day Afghanistan, turning their samurai into an elite squad of Navy SEALS looking to avenge the bombing of a fire base and the death of one of their own by undertaking an off-the-books operation of their own.
When Taliban fighters threaten to steal a small village’s entire crop of poppies to turn into heroin to fund their insurgent activities, the villagers know it will mean their deaths afterwards and turn to the American squad to help protect them. But, vastly outnumbered, the squad realizes that the only way to combat the enemy is to turn the farmers themselves into fighters.
But, even with the help of the villagers, the squad knows it is potentially facing its own version of the Alamo.
Playing heavily on the themes of honor, brotherhood, and respect, Rubicon pulls us along with a frightening expediency. Fire Team Leader Hector Carver is home for the briefest amount of time before we see him pulled back into the fire, and in that brief glimpse, we understand how much of a failure he appears to everyone around him. An ex-husband, absent father, and distant boyfriend, the only place Hector is fully himself is among his squadmates. Men who would live and die for him, as he would for them. A bond and a code of honor that the civilians around him can’t begin to understand.
As he prepares his team and the village for this impossible op, we see him coming to grips with his weaknesses and strengths, as well as the moral uncertainty of this task. Especially when, early on, they learn that the villagers may have killed American soldiers on Taliban orders. And, how can you protect people who may be as dangerous as they enemy they fight?
Writer Mark Long keeps his story moving at a brisk pace, sketching in characterization as he goes, aided ably by the talented pencils of artist Mario Stilla. And, working in tandem, these two utilize a great, slow build through the first half of the book.
But, it's the nearly-nonstop battle against the Taliban forces dominating the second half of this book that makes it a nail biter. The action is fast and beautifully confusing at times, mirroring the feelings of an actual firefight, with its tides and eddies, its highs and lows. Stilla’s artwork blossoms in stark blues and browns, mixed with violent oranges to instill a glorious chaos to the final confrontation.
If you’re a fan of Black Hawk Down, Seven Samurai, or any of the recent films and TV shows coming out of the Iraq War, you cannot go wrong with picking up this volume.
VERDICT: FIVE Sand-Blown Mortar Shells out of FIVE