The trouble with reviewing a great graphic novel is that reviewing it can be as simple as recounting what happens and how, followed by, “and all of it is done really well.” Brazilian twin brothers Fabio Moon and Gabriel Bá adapt Brazilian author Milton Hatoum’s novel Dois Irmaos (published as The Brothers in English) into Two Brothers, a tale of fictional twin brothers who follow drastically different life paths and the families swept up in their wake. Two Brothers is also a tale of mid-1900s Brazil and Lebanon, youth and age, optimism and resignation.
Moon and Bá make a number of interesting artistic decisions for this book, including the black and white color scheme and how it reflects the diverse perspectives of the narrative. When the defining dramatic split between the twins Omar and Yaqub occurs, in which Omar scars Yaqub’s face with a bottle, Yaqub’s blood is shown as white on himself and the bottle, but black on Omar and the floor. There is a visual suggestion that Yaqub’s childhood has been forever corrupted by this event, and his swift maturity into adulthood as a shy engineer supports this reading. Omar, who lazes about and acts on instinct, gets kicked out of school for assaulting his math teacher and stays close to his mother. Both twins have unrestrained libidos, following in their father’s footsteps, who gets his own flashback chapter (circa 1914) filling in some of the family history of how the twins’ parents met. There are a number of one-panel sex scenes, some topless, and they fit the adult narrative in a way that is not gratuitous. Between the twins’ childhoods, adulthoods, and their parents’ backstory, there are several eras reflecting each other decades apart.
Their family calls Manaus, Brazil home, though their roots extend to Lebanon. The narrator’s identity, as well as several other developments in all their lives, are gradually fed to the reader in deliberately paced chapters that take full advantage of the comics page. Moon and Bá are adept at establishing a street corner, parade, harbor, dance party, mansion, and anyplace else subject to the main family’s high drama. Black and white space are frequently used to depict gulfs between characters, closely guarded secrets, and spread out settings. Within these spaces are the alternately grizzled, naive, horny, suspicious, jealous, and tired faces of the cast, each depending on where the plot has flash-forwarded or flash-backed.
Two Brothers is a literary adaptation par excellence, and much of its richness is beneath the surface. Readers with insight and perhaps the time for a second reading will pick up on reflections within reflections, as much of the book’s meaning goes unsaid. This is not only a mature book in terms of blood and sex, though there are scenes of each, but a book with mature demands to make of the reader. Moon and Bá, channeling the original novel’s author Hatoum, traverse eras, cultures, identities, and generations, and together create a densely layered story that reaches far higher than any individual scene or single character’s emotion. This is a tapestry across time, and graphic novel collections should display it with pride and let patrons know “all of it is done really well.”
by Fabio Moon, Gabriel Bá
Dark Horse, 2015