by Philippe Thirault, Butch Guice, Mike Perkins, Gallur, Jose Malaga, Joelle Comtois, Tatto Caballero, Javi Montes, Natacha Ruck, Ken Grobe, Quinn, and Katia Donoghue.
A story of two brothers, a messy war, ancient magical curses, and a woman’s love make up the story of Mandalay from Humanoids.
Centuries ago, an ambitious ruler sought to conquer the surrounding lands of Burma and beyond and was aided by a wise mage. The mage, seeing his grave error killed the ruler to prevent further chaos and passed his knowledge along to his surviving family in case it was needed again. When the English Empire arrived to get a hold of Burma’s people, the mage’s oldest descendant turns away from his teachings and decides to use his knowledge for revenge. When the son of a cruel English leader lies on the verge of death, a chain of events is started that will bring more death and turmoil to Burma than what is already coming with World War II.
Mandalay is a lengthy read, because it’s plot moves from Lance and Alex Waters, two brothers who will eventually be on opposing sides of a Civil War, to Leng the mage who will help to escalate that war, to Ky-ian who struggles with the man Alex becomes, to random people who die from mystical or conventional ends. Rather than making this a complex and engaging read, it makes the story somewhat shallow because its focus is so divided.
That’s not to say the story is bad, as its about two brothers who gradually move from moderate stances of good and bad to extremes but even then there is some grey area. Characters with noble goals, such as expelling foreign invaders subjugating native people, fighting for the benefit of your country’s glory, or fighting to protect your family are done with questionable actions that keep you guessing as to their actual morality. Obviously, they believe themselves to be in the right but the important thing is if they make the right choices.
Perhaps coincidentally, the events of Mandalay have some interesting parallels to current events in the real world such as: peaceful protests against unfair regimes, Industrialized Euro-centric countries involvement in other lands, as well as touching on the British Empire’s expansion into the Asia continent and its treatment of the native people. It’s most likely unintentional to be reminded of these events but its somewhat hard not to with their prevalence in the news.
Again, the plot of the book doesn’t capitalize on the historical or emotional ramifications while it follows the main cast throughout the war that grips Burma for almost 5 years.
On the art side, Guice, Gallur, and Malaga all have differing styles that complement each other nicely in illustrating the plot. Guice’s style is a tad more sketchy and abstract, while Gallur’s is more refined and classical, with Malaga’s cartoonish style in the final pages of the book. Even though there are three artists with noticeable differences between them, the change-offs fit in with the plot’s time jumps and progressions. The characters mature throughout the events of the book, and the world changes around them. Ironically, the look becomes less darker despite the increased scenes of battle and death that occur.
The characters and backgrounds are always well rendered, clearly depicting what is happening on the page. There is never too much in a panel or too little, it is consistently drawn throughout the entire book. Special attention is given to the military equipment and vehicles of the time, such as the airplanes and tanks used. The occasional creature that shows up is portrayed as grotesque and menacing, such as Burmese malnourished zombies and steely-eyed gargoyles called Assuriches and Shawns respectively.
There is some problems with the lettering of the book. Mandalay was translated from French to English, and the dialogue can come across as really heavy-handed, or not even fit into the panels. In the copy I read, whole word bubbles were empty, and the letter “I” disappeared numerous times (“Did” would become “Dd”, etc) which took me out of the story. I’ve seen this happen in print books, where a word is misspelled in a distracting way. However, the fact that a letter can be absent in several areas of dialogue seems like a really glaring mistake.
Overall, Mandalay isn’t a complex read. It tells a basic story in a nonlinear way that feels overwhelming, but offers something different from other comics being told at larger publishers. It seems to me it would have benefited from being published as a series, to give the main cast more spotlight and properly show their growth. With so much time and so much happening in the pages, some of the characters’ resolutions feel unearned. For those who enjoy history and cultural specific mysticism, there is some enjoyment to be had with this book. Others, may want to look elsewhere.
Rating: Poor, Fair, Good, Great, Excellent
Disclosure: Publisher Humanoids provided an advance review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site or publisher or agreement on the review’s content.