Sean Wu barely knows his father. Sean lives in America, brought there by his mother, while his father stayed in China. However, on a dark, rainy night, Sean meets his father – who promptly gets murdered by a terrifying spectre.
It turns out that his father was a tomb robber – but not an ordinary one. There are ancient catacombs filled with both treasure and dangers spanning the world, and the good guys and the bad guys both want a piece. Before he knows it, Sean is caught in a web of intrigue and deceit. His uncle brings him back to China to understand his place as the heir to a very underground organisation, and soon Sean is a part of something he doesn’t really understand, but may possibly kill him.
Based on the best-selling Chinese book series Daomu Journal, from Xu ‘Kennedy’ Lei, Colin Johnson and Ken Chou’s Daomu tells the story of international tomb robbers, terrifying monsters, amazing treasures and of course, the story of Sean, the heir to a mysterious and dangerous legacy.
I’m not familiar with Daomu‘s source material, but the premise of Daomu drew me in. It’s simple enough but also quite engaging – the creatures that guard the labyrinths that lie below the ground are both original and frightening, while there is a murky conspiracy occurring in the background.
Most of my criticisms of Daomu are stylistic. Johnson leans heavily on expository text – Sean’s thoughts, his diary, the Daomu’s manual, general narration – and it’s a little much, especially when it’s a graphic novel that already contains plenty of visuals. For example, one page describes a man who is also depicted – it’s sort of overkill to do both. It either means that he’s not confident enough in his artwork to show the reader what he wants to show them, or he just really likes narration.
Chou’s artwork is dark and gritty, with high contrast and not a lot of bright colours, which definitely works for the subject matter. On top of that, the art is fairly realistic, but not hyperrealistic – there are stylised lines and colours that keep it grounded.
On the characters: Sean has a team to help him underground, and there are also other players that work for a giant corporation looking (as usual) to exploit the catacombs and sell anything off to the highest bidder. While Sean is given a fair amount of backstory and character, most of the other characters are drawn, metaphorically, with broad strokes. Of course, there are only 244 pages in this book and there’s only so much you can fit in there – I found that the characters were given just enough depth to make them understandable. Part of that is due to the mysterious nature of all of the characters: Johnson’s plot obviously gives several characters scope to return in future graphic novels.
The only thing I really found grating was the distinct lack of female characters, and the way the one female character is depicted. While Sean’s mother is mentioned, she is never given any kind of face or backstory, and apparently the Daomu are pretty sexist, because only one female tomb-robber appears in the entire book. Of course, she is given skimpy outfits and bathing suits with strategic holes cut through while the guys get proper gear and wetsuits. Is it a narrative choice? Maybe. Is it a little annoying? Definitely.
Ultimately, I did expect more from Daomu. It is based on one of China’s biggest selling series, and has a wealth of mythology to draw from, which it does. However, many of the stylistic choices didn’t appeal to me and I found the narration clunky. Still, there’s a lot to enjoy, and hopefully a potential sequel could open up more avenues to explore.
Daomu is released on February 3rd 2015 in hardcover, supplemented with concept artwork and design material.