I should admit right now that I’ve never watched a Hong Kong action film, so I’m not the most qualified judge of a comic like Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre. This genre is as much about the fighting as it is about the story. Not that there isn’t plenty of plot in the first volume of Heaven Sword; two intertwining stories feature what seems like a cast of thousands. The main focus is on two very different men whose lives collide; one is on a bloody quest to avenge his family; the other is a virtuous young man whose life is forever changed by a dangerous woman. Zhune Shai meets Jay Shan Chang for the first time at a tournament held by the Sky Eagle Clan. The prize at this fight is the legendary Dragon Sabre, and Zhune Shai will do anything to get it.
“Chivalrous” Jay Shan Chang has arrived at the tournament to investigate his brother’s death. He travels there with the mysterious Sue Ying, a headstrong, powerful young woman who doesn’t blink at killing. Despite their differences, Chang and Ying find themselves falling in love. Jay Shan Chang has no interest in the Dragon Sabre, but when Zhune Shai seizes the sword and threatens to kill all witnesses, “Chivalrous” Chang must defend his fellow warriors. He challenges Zhune Shai to demonstrate his inner strength in a magical feat of calligraphy (I just love Chinese mythology!). Defeated, Zhune Shai turns the tables on Chang by kidnapping him and his lady and setting sail for an uncharted island.
Despite the confusing plot, the (to my mind) unnecessary number of battles, and some sloppy editing, I came to care about these characters. Fans of Kung Fu stories will enjoy the sword fighting, but readers like myself will skip ahead to the quieter moments when real human relationships form. Libraries with fans of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon may want to consider this series; while it features lots of fighting, the violence in Volume 1 is hardly ever graphic. Zhune Shai curses a little bit, as befits a grizzled warrior. The greatest strength of Chinese action comics like Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre is the sumptuous art; this volume features a fight on a collapsing iceberg that will take your breath away.