It’s undeniable that prequel comics that tie into franchises in other media are steadily becoming a bigger deal. Case in point, a still young 2017 has already seen the likes of 24: Legacy and Riverdale penciled in to get that very treatment. And, much like those two, the same could be said for The Great Wall: Last Survivor, the subject of today’s review.
Set sixty years before the events depicted in The Great Wall, the upcoming major motion picture starring Matt Damon and Willem Dafoe, The Last Survivor chronicles the journey of a young man named Bao, seamlessly blending history, mythology and fantasy. So, if you happen to be a fan of any of those topics – or a combination of the three – this is something you may want to give a look.
Speaking of taking a gander at the content, it must be said that artist Gian Fernando brings rather striking imagery to the table, creating some visual storytelling that perfectly complements this hardcover’s big screen sibling. And while Guy Major’s colors certainly made those panels pop, I couldn’t help but think about how vibrant the footage from the movie looks at times. Granted, I have no personal experience digitally coloring comics, but the two could have been aligned just a little more for symmetry’s sake, at least in my view.
One of the first things you’ll notice about this book is that it’s broken into four chapters, so just in case you’re wondering, this probably would have been a four-issue arc had it not been published as an original graphic novel. Not only that, but each one explores a different theme that you’ll come to learn like the Green Lantern oath: Discipline, loyalty, secrecy and sacrifice.
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In a nutshell, you’re going to become well acquainted with Bao and learn how he persevered a tragic childhood incident before rising in the ranks of the Nameless Order, an elite guard tasked with protecting the Great Wall of China. As it turns out, its true purpose – in the story, at least – is to keep out grotesque creatures called the Tao Tei, whom attack every sixty years for eight days. To draw a crude parallel, it’s a threat akin to Jeepers Creepers, only exponentially worse.
Before proceeding any further, I must give kudos to writer Arvid Nelson for being able to immerse me in the world of a movie I have not yet seen, making me care about the characters and giving me motivation to turn the page. Commendably, he found a delicate balance between detailing Bao’s Bear Corps training in the past and the brutal battle against the Tao Tei in the present. Furthermore, it was wise to say the physiology of the monstrosities changes with each appearance and, therefore, we may very well have something different to look forward to in the movie.
Continuing on that note, I found the flashbacks to be the most enthralling aspect of the book. Aside from showing the rise of a selfless hero, they contained the beginnings of a lifelong friendship, young love and even the element of betrayal. Needless to say, it made for a rewarding reading experience.
Upon finishing the story, I could only hope the movie is half as good as the graphic novel. Seriously, it has everything. And despite its bittersweet ending, I couldn’t help but walk away with a positive feeling. In fact, I would go as far to say that even if you don’t like the movie, you should still check this out.
When it comes to supplemental material, we’re given a succinct look at each facet of the Nameless Order, which is comprised of the Bear, Crane, Eagle, Tiger and Deer Corps, respectively. Using robust images from both the comic and movie, their purpose is summed up well enough for anyone to understand because, at this point, we’re all pretty much uninitiated. In addition to that, a brief Tao Tei bio is also included.
It seems only fair to imagine that The Great Wall: Last Survivor will see the majority of its sales once the film’s release has come and gone because this is a bit more below the radar than, say, a summer tentpole flick. Having said that, I wonder how this will read for someone who sees the movie first. I guess I could liken it to when I played the video game Enter The Matrix before seeing The Matrix Reloaded in theaters way back in 2003. Either way, this is how you do it when it comes to providing an enriching experience.
Being much more than a simple cash grab, The Great Wall: Last Survivor will no doubt tremendously complement the upcoming feature film, yet is also capable of standing on its own merit.