Four Constables Vol. 1

Adapted by Tony Wong
Based on the novel by Rui-An Wen
Art by Andy Seto
128 pages, color
Published by ComicsOne

Every time I turn around these days, there seems to be a new book from ComicsOne illustrated by Andy Seto. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Para Para, Story of the Tao, Shaolin Soccer… the list goes on and on. With the release of The Four Constables Vol. 1, though, I think ComicsOne has found the most attractive book by Seto to date.

Master Zhuge Zhen-Wo is the head bodyguard and advisor for the Emperor of China… but more importantly, he’s the trainer of the legendary Four Constables, four of the best martial artists in the entire world. Iron Hands, Life Snatcher, Cold Blooded, and Emotionless are each a deadly force on their own, so when Zhuge summons all four of them to return to try and defeat a new foe, the stakes are higher than they’ve ever been for the Four Constables…

It’s funny, but reading The Four Constables is almost like reading a kung fu version of X-Men. Each member has their own specific abilities, secret code name, and tumultuous past to overcome. Add in crazy villains that also have code names and special attack gimmicks and you begin to get an idea of just what’s going on here. It’s funny to think that it’s based on a series of books from almost forty years ago, when it’s got such a more modern sensibility about it, as if it was based off comics from the ’80s and ’90s. One of the better translations from ComicsOne’s kung fu line, even here there are still little glitches and oddities. (One page talks about how Iron Hands has already left on the mission, but two pages later it’s Life Snatcher that’s left already, with Iron Hands still on his way to hear about the mission.) The narration itself isn’t as stilted as earlier releases, but the problem is that there’s just too much of it. After a while I found my eyes glazing over from the sheer amount of information being dumped upon me as a reader. At some point in the creative process, this really should have been trimmed down. Likewise, the narration really misses out on the one place where more could have been good—specifically, helping identify the constantly shifting times and places of this comic. At any given moment you’re jumping back three days (or several years!) to a related event, and before long the reader feels like they’ve got whiplash. It’s frustrating because when this comic was first created it should have been resequenced in places, letting the adaptation flow a little better in chronological order. It’s not only not gaining anything by constantly flashing back, it’s actually hurting itself by doing so.

The art, on the other hand, is easily the best I’ve seen from Seto. It’s hard to say how much influence fellow artist Tony Wong had on the book (he’s listed as “director” while Seto is “illustrator”), but I’m quite pleased with the end result. In the past, Seto’s books have had a handful of pages that looked to be fully painted, or at the very least computer colored and enhanced. The rest of the book would then be traditionally colored, which while nice could never compare to those early pages that would almost literally explode off the page into your retinas. Here, the entire book is composed in that eye-poppingly brilliant look, and I couldn’t be more delighted. From zooming through the air to slashing at someone a dozen times with a sword, each panel is carefully constructed to not only tell the action but showcase the martial arts skills used by the characters. With blue and purple energy blasts rippling off characters and stone walls crashing to the ground, well, you can see why this really is like reading a Chinese 12th century version of the X-Men.

It’s a shame that there are some underlying flaws in the story half of this adaptation of The Four Constables, because the art is fantastic. In the end, it’s the strong art by Seto that pushes this into a positive column, and hopefully now that all the histories of our protagonists is on display we’ll see less flashbacks in future volumes. For those who are fans of Seto’s art, this book is a must-have. Otherwise… just make sure you know what you’re getting into before you buy, and you’ll be pretty well set

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