The Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

fantasy and science fiction book reviewsThe Divine by Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, and Tomer Hanuka

THE DIVINEI have been eagerly anticipating The Divine, written by Boaz Lavie, primarily because of the art I’d glimpsed. Artists Asaf Hanuka and Tomer Hanuka have a unique style that made me want to read the book even though I had no idea what it was about. This new book put out by First Second, probably the best publisher of standalone graphic novels, takes a standard plot and makes it unique, not only because of the impressive art, but also because the creators turn a realistic tale into a mythical one.

The Divine is a fast-paced, stunning work of art that deserves to be read multiple times, both for the visceral, at times surreal, art and for its emotional writing. Both elements, however, sneak up on the reader, because the story starts out with the pedestrian worries of a young man, Mark, who is newly wed and newly worried about money and security. The art reflects his everyday worries: It, too, does nothing to attract the eye as out of the ordinary (though it is highly skilled). However, once the story changes locales, we realize that the stakes are higher than we, and Mark, thought. Starting at this middle point in the story, the art is stunning; paradoxically, at its most violent moments, the art is also seen in its most sublime glory.

divine 2My descriptions may seem exaggerated, but they match the experiences I had while reading, and these extremes seen in the book are appropriate since the two locations in the story are so different: Mark starts off in the United States and ends up in Quanlom, a Southeast Asian country immersed in a civil war. The more moderate and level-headed Mark allows his hot-headed friend Jason, with his tales of dragons, to talk him into a semi-secretive military contract for a lot of fast money. Both Mark and Jason have military training in explosives. Their contract-job is to go into Quanlom and detonate major explosives in its volcano, what Jason describes as “Lava Tube Denuding.”

This basic tale did not seem promising at first, but I was floored by the time I finished reading it, and I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough, honestly. Over in Quanlom, as we might expect, Mark and Jason can’t avoid the civil war. Jason’s path is clear: He is the evil military man through and through. Mark, our protagonist, must make a difficult choice since he is the military man with a heart, with compassion. I was expecting this conflict from the opening pages of the book, but what surprised me was the emotional power with which this tale was told.

Why is The Divine as powerful as it is? There are four reasons: In part, though I didn’t know it at the time I was reading, it’s because the story has its origin in a real-life story about children soldiers and a specific picture taken of twins. This picture plus story and its influence on The Divine are explained at the end of the book. Secondly, the writing is so violently realistic once Mark is with the soldiers that I can’t imagine a reader who won’t be moved by Mark’s situation and the seriousness of his choices. Another reason this story is powerful is that the writers move Mark into a fantastical realm where the realistic story of civil war and violence take the divine 1on a mythic quality. The fourth, and final, reason I think this comic is powerful is because this mythic quality is expressed via art that is vibrant with almost day-glow colors. Mythic elements portrayed in the story take on an unrealistic, beautiful coloring, as do the most violent scenes, which, oddly enough, turn the most disturbing plot points into the most visually vibrant and beautiful. It is a startling effect.

The book reads fast and is light on text, which I think is as it should be. However, part of me wants to see the story fleshed out a little more in at least some places — the couple, Jason, the military, the intervention via a news leak, or the children — but another part of me thinks that part of the power of the story comes from how streamlined it is and how it is almost impossible to not read it in one sitting. Still, I think it’s about half a star away from perfection. Some might bump it up to five stars for being streamlined and others might see it as a four-star book that needs to be longer. I’m sticking with four-and-a-half stars. But I hope you will read this story and decide for yourself. You certainly don’t want to miss The Divine by Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka, and Boaz Lavie.

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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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  1. Just the pictures you’ve posted are stunning. I’m ordering this book right now.

  2. Holy cats, that art is amazing.

  3. Oh, and is the inspiring photo picture of the two brothers in Myanmar from the 1990s, the one soldier and the other a spiritual leader?

  4. I’m glad to hear the art has the same impact on you both. Images like these made me want to read the book, so I was surprised when it started out so simply. But the contrast between the everyday world and this mythic world is crucial to the story.

    And yes, Marion, that’s the picture that inspired The Divine. The artists did a great job of capturing the two personalities suggested by the photo and turning them into fictional characters.

  5. Scott /

    I haven’t read this but it sounds good. Comic Alliance had the creators of Divine put together a list of their favorites:

  6. Thanks for the link, Scott! I’ve already found a few books in their list that I’ve never heard of before.

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