“Daomu” is an interesting beast, a Chinese comic based off a series of best-selling novels by Kennedy Xu about grave-robbers, and then translated into English. Adapting a book to a comic is something that’s harder than it seems. Unlike a movie or television series, books often rely a lot more on a narration stream (be it first- or third-person) that guides the book forward.
And unfortunately, like so many novel adaptations, “Daomu” falls into a familiar trap of trying to keep as much of that narration in the comic itself. The end result is a comic just covered in narration boxes relating the thoughts of protagonist Sean Wu. Huge blocks of text dominate the story, drawing the reader’s eye away from the art and making them have to focus almost solely on the words. It’s hard to keep from feeling that just publishing the novel with spot illustrations would have a stronger focus on the art.
If you push through to the heart of the story, it’s unfortunately slow paced and barely gets started. We know that Sean’s father has died, and Sean himself is attacked, but that’s about it. There’s no real introduction to the titular group of grave-robbers, or to the overall plot to grab your attention. This sort of slow pace probably works much better in China where everyone is already familiar with “Daomu” (in the same way that the later “Harry Potter” movies can afford to be incomprehensible to people who haven’t read the books, because it’s already aimed at the converted), but here it’s slightly off-putting. The idea of “Daomu” sounds cool, but we’ve yet to get any of that.
Ken Chou’s art reminds me a lot of artists like Wing Shing Ma whose kung-fu styled books were published in English by ComicsOne a few years ago, but with less gloss and more subtlety. It’s actually the high point of the comic here, with some panels and pages having touches of artists like Bill Sienkiewicz and Ben Templesmith with the way that he draws characters or something as simple as rain coming down a car window. There’s a certain stiffness to some of the characters, but considering that most readers are going to be too distracted by the ever-present text dumps, I suspect it will go mostly unnoticed.
I wanted to love “Daomu” but this first issue isn’t doing it too many favors. I suspect “Daomu” reads better in a collected format, if only because we’ll get to the heart of the plot much quicker, but even then I found myself hoping to just get a translated novel to read instead. “Daomu” #1 has the best of intentions, but it’s not living up to the advance promise.