Artwork by Michael Oeming
Foreword by John Woo.
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That's how the cover reads. The omission of any writing credits is a fair warning; the confession inside by the initial creators, that the title arrived before the concept, came as no surprise. But like agent Ross in the BLACK PANTHER, I'm getting ahead of myself. Set in San Francisco, the story opens as a young man, Kar, is harassed at work by a gang of youths. He successfully challenges them, but then unexpectedly abandons his shop for their chaotic company: 'We are simple creatures, meant to live and die bound to one small group of people. But we don't get the luxury of a lifetime together. We need to know a person up front. Can you fight? Can you drink? Will you stay? We have short cuts -- ways to bring new people into our life. We pull from inside and patch together pieces of the past to create the trust in new "family".'
The man they initially asked to flesh out their idea, Brett Lewis, succeeds beyond reasonable expectations in layering the opening sequences with a sufficiently idiosyncratic narrative to infuse the protagonist with an individuality and intelligence, a sensitive thoughtfulness born of Eastern philosophy, perfect for his background and role, so that I actually thought they were on to something here (the above quote rings true; the other night I met a whole slew of new people in a bar, and that's what I found we were doing: exchanging snippets of personal history to find common ground and define our perspectives within that ground). Also, although coming off like a third-rate Paul Pope, this early art from Oeming also resists the traditional and predictable panel layout, and is quirky enough to keep you reading.
Having bonded over dinner with the mob boss's 'daughter', Kar tells her about his past. Driven out of Tibet by the Chinese, Kar's parents found themselves in Hong Kong, where the British police removed his father in an attempt to appease its future ruler, after which his mother sent him away: '"I didn't want to leave. I was seven years old -- All my friends and people I knew as family. She said if I looked for The Monk I'd be safe. And our family would be free. I knew I'd never see her again! She said "The heart knows no time"... an old saying that she said meant that she'd always be with me. I blamed her. Even now that I know her reasons... part of me can't forgive her for leaving... She said people would try to get the necklace. She sent me to a cousin in Taiwan. I'm unsure where to look next, where to even start, but I can't do anything else, either. Maybe the heart knows no time, but there is a bad side to that. At its core my heart still feels the way it did that day. It is still frozen in the past. The heart will carry an unfinished feeling for a lifetime, looking for a new place for them to grow. It's always looking for circumstances that fit it. Abandonment, betrayal."'
Whoops, under the circumstances. So far, so good-ish, but you spotted the amulet there, didn't you? All terribly CAPTAIN BRITAIN (the early years, before Alan Moore). That's where it all comes crashing down, the Chinese come searching for him, and another less interesting writer takes over. For there was once, you know, a Bulletproof Monk, who helped his people out against the Nazis; he had an amulet and Kar wears that amulet, a parting gift from his mother. His search is for that Bulletproof Monk, and guess where that Bulletproof Monk's hiding? Yes, it's time to inherit some martial arts superpowers and kick some conspiratiorial ass. Cue John Woo ("soon to be a film by..."). The more interesting thoughts - on carefully preparing food as medicine for the soul etc. - disappear overnight, leaving Kar to spout trite aphorisms. '"You sound like a bad fortune cookie, little China boy,"' says his captor. Well, blame the writer, dear.
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